Poor nations have ‘every right to be angry’ about climate crisis: UN chief
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, US, September 19, 2023.
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20 September 2023, 19:30 [SAST]
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Developing countries demanded new financial help from wealthy nations in their uphill fight against the climate crisis during a summit in New York at which UN Secretary-General António Guterres said they had “every right to be angry”.
Guterres told the one-day Climate Ambition Summit at UN headquarters that poorer countries had done the least to cause global warming but were bearing the brunt of its impacts, from more droughts and heatwaves to storms and wildfires.
“Many of the poorest nations have every right to be angry,” he said. “Angry that they are suffering most from a climate crisis they did nothing to create. Angry that promised finance has not materialised.” “And angry that their borrowing costs are sky-high,” the UN chief added.
“We need a transformation to rebuild trust.”
The summit is intended to build momentum on climate action before the COP28 annual UN climate talks in Dubai, starting in late November.
Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, prime minister of Samoa and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), noted that inhabitants of Pacific island nations like Tuvalu and Kiribati are already being forced to relocate due to rising sea levels.
“In short, I stand here to ensure that all people of small island developing states know that their voices are being heard on the world stage,” she said. “And we will not stop fighting for their right to remain on the lands in which the legacies of their ancestors are rooted. The lands we have every obligation to protect.”
She touted solutions smaller countries are putting forward, like a marine sanctuary in Palau.
“Many small islands are leading the way in driving forward renewable energy initiatives, as well as making concerted adaption efforts to combat erosion and sea level rise and address water and agricultural challenges,” she said.
CLIMATE FINANCE: ‘AN OBLIGATION FOR HARMS, INJUSTICES’
Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, said wealthy governments are nowhere near close to doing enough for the developing world. “We, the people of the Global South, are not asking for assistance,” she told the summit.
“Climate finance is an obligation and part of reparations for historical and continuing harms and injustices.”
Developed countries have to date famously lagged on a prior pledge to contribute $100 billion in annual climate financing for vulnerable nations starting from 2020 – with especially paltry sums available for adapting to climate change impacts.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said developed economies “in particular must act with urgency to accelerate the reduction of emissions and fulfil their obligations and honor past promises.”
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Marina Silva, Brazil’s environment minister, spoke on behalf of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was absent due to illness, pledging to get more aggressive on the country’s emissions targets and reaffirming plans to halt deforestation in the Amazon by 2030.
“No country should have to pick between fighting global warming or fighting poverty or hunger,” she said, giving the president’s speech.
“This is a false dilemma.” Guterres had set a high bar for government, business and other financial leaders to be awarded speaking slots at the summit, intended to highlight “first movers and doers” on the climate action front.
Leaders from more than 30 countries, including representatives from a host of countries in poorer or developing regions, as well as the European Union, were selected – but collectively they accounted for only about 17% of the world’s emissions, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation calculation.
“One summit will not change the world,” said the UN chief. “But today can be a powerful moment to generate momentum – momentum that we build on over the coming months – and in particular at the COP.”
Guterres also said governments should push the global financial system toward supporting climate action. And he said he wanted new early warning systems for threats like storms and floods – which are lacking in developing areas like Africa – in place by 2027.
BIG EMITTERS ABSENT FROM SUMMIT
Perhaps just as significant as the list of speakers was the world leaders who did not attend. Those included US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – who said in London on Wednesday he would delay some of Britain’s actions to tackle climate change – and French President Emmanuel Macron, who is greeting King Charles on a state visit to France.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who helped host the recent G20 summit in India, also did not come, nor did Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China, the United States and India are the top-ranking national emitters.
The White House had indicated last week that Biden, who is in New York this week for other meetings at the UN, would not attend. John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, was present, though he did not have a speaking role. California Governor Gavin Newsom used his slot to denounce fossil fuel companies for stoking the climate crisis.
Up to 75 000 people had marched in New York City on Sunday in what organizers billed as the largest public climate event since the pandemic, with a direct message to Biden to take more aggressive action on eliminating the use of fossil fuels.
On Wednesday morning ahead of the summit, the White House announced plans to launch an American “Climate Corps” in the hope of putting 20 000 young people on green career pathways.
Asked why Biden was not attending, a senior administration official told reporters earlier that climate is an important theme woven into every one of the US president’s engagements this week – and pointed to the Inflation Reduction Act.
The law, which Biden signed in August 2022, is his signature domestic legislative achievement and includes an estimated $370 billion in spending for the green transition. “We’re proud of this record, but everybody needs to do more,” the official said.
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