UN chief at climate summit: Let's make history

UNITED NATIONS – “We are not here to talk. We are here to make history.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon opened the world’s largest gathering on climate change by calling on 120 world leaders to go beyond rhetoric, and commit to a “meaningful” climate agreement in 2015.

The UN chief said the delegates of the UN Climate Summit that he convened must “set the world on a new course” to respond to “the defining issue of our age.”

“I am asking you to lead. We must cut emissions. Science says they must peak by 2020, and decline sharply thereafter. By the end of this century we must be carbon neutral. We must not emit more carbon than our planet can absorb,” Ban said here on Tuesday, September 23.

Ban urged heads of state and government to “do their fair share to limit global temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius,” the globally agreed upon threshold to avert the dangerous effects of climate change.

“To do that, we must work together to mobilize money and move markets. Let us invest in the climate solutions available to us today. Economists have shown that this comes at minimal extra cost, while the benefits to our people and our planet are monumental,” he said.

Ban cited the need for public and private finance institutions to help address climate change, to put a price on carbon, and to capitalize the Green Climate Fund, a $100 billion financing mechanism aimed at helping developing countries in adaptation and mitigation.

“All these actions demand collaboration, cooperation and coalitions – today and all the way through to the Paris agreement next year.”

Ban organized the summit to pressure world leaders to announce bold action that will build momentum months before negotiators draft a deal in Lima in December, and a year before they finalize the agreement in Paris in 2015. The deal is set to take effect in 2020.

He made his own pledge, saying the UN will be carbon neutral by 2020.

The UN chief opened his message with a personal note, pointing out that he grew up poor in war-torn Korea to become the head of the largest international organization.

“Sitting here today is, in so many ways, a dream come true. But today the dreams of people throughout the world hang in the balance. Climate change threatens hard-won peace, prosperity, and opportunity for billions of people,” Ban said.

The summit is the biggest ever gathering of world leaders, business executives, and civil society groups on climate change. US President Barack Obama is participating in the event but the leaders of the two other top-emitting countries, China and India, are absent.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III will also speak about the experience of the world’s third most-disaster prone country.

‘Political will is renewable resource’

Besides Ban, former US Vice President and long-time climate change activist Al Gore also addressed the summit.

“All we need is political will but political will is a renewable resource,” Gore told delegates.

Gore called on governments to invest in renewable energy, saying it has increasingly become accessible and in 79 countries, is as cheap as other power sources.

“Investors are responding. The green bond market has grown more than ten-fold. The opportunity is present for nations that seize it. Action on climate change is not a choice between economy and environment. It creates jobs, boosts growth, and sustains civilizations,” he said.

u2018CUT EMISSIONS.u2019 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon calls for climate action in the worldu2019s largest gathering on climate change. Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP

u2018CUT EMISSIONS.u2019 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon calls for climate action in the worldu2019s largest gathering on climate change. Photo by Timothy A.

Clary/AFP

Rajendra Pachauri, the chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said his group’s reports already presented the scientific evidence on the need for urgent action.

Pachauri said the last 3 decades are the warmest in history while greenhouse gases rose at an unprecedented rate. 

“The longer we wait, the higher the risk of [climate change impacts]: droughts, floods, storms, death tolls. How on earth could we leave our children with a world like this?”

“We're told limiting climate change is expensive. Wait ‘til you get the bill for inaction,” he said.

Dicaprio: You don’t pretend for a living

Other speakers included New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, United Nations Environment Program Goodwill Ambassador actress Li Bingbing, and civil society’s Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands, who recited a moving poem dedicated for her baby.

Kijiner also cited Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Philippines as an effect of climate change. “We can’t pretend it didn’t exist.”

Newly-appointed UN Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio also took the floor, comparing world leaders’ response to climate change with his profession. 

“As an actor, I pretend for a living. I play fictitious roles solving fictitious problems. I believe mankind has looked at climate change in that same way, as if it were fiction,” he said. “I stand before you not as an expert but as a concerned citizen who [along with many] wants to solve our climate crisis.”

The Wolf of Wall Street star said renewable energy is “not only achievable but good economic policy” and that climate change “is not a question of politics but survival.”

He told world leaders, “You can make history or be vilified by it.”

“I pretend for a living but you do not.” – Rappler.com

Rappler multimedia reporter Ayee Macaraig is a 2014 fellow of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists. She is in New York to cover the UN General Assembly, foreign policy, diplomacy, and world events.