Climate change doubts have given way to a richer debate on actions

#CriticalThinking

Picture of Janos Pasztor
Janos Pasztor

UN Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Change

Climate change isn’t new – the science has been known for a long time, and governments have been negotiating what to do about it for more than 20 years. What has changed, though, is that climate change is no longer a far-off problem. It is also just one manifestation of a plethora of inter-related issues. Development in rich and poor countries alike is pitting short-term gain against the wise use and equitable sharing of the world’s natural resources.

Opportunities for countries to collectively change course are rare. Yet 2015 offers a number of opportunities to abandon business as usual and set a common course of global action. The Paris conference in December could cap a year in which the world’s governments chart an ambitious course to eradicate extreme poverty while shifting to clean, affordable and renewable energy.

The previously unshakeable belief that action on climate change was in opposition to economic growth has given way to a growing understanding that both goals are achievable

The debate over whether climate change is real has given way to a richer discussion of the costs, benefits and actions needed. The previously unshakeable belief that action on climate change was in opposition to economic growth has given way to a growing understanding that both goals are achievable.

There are significant issues still to be addressed. There remain profound differences on how to assess the obligations and responsibilities of each country, and it is still an open question where the financing will come from. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has consistently called for a universal climate agreement in Paris, and his preparatory climate summit last September brought together a hundred national leaders to boost the level of political ambition on climate change. Governments and corporate CEOs announced eight action areas that included climate finance, energy, transport, industry, agriculture, cities, forests and building resilience.

When negotiations came together again in Lima, Peru, last December, change was very much in the air and the Lima-Paris Action Agenda was established to increase momentum. The good omens now include early agreement on a baseline negotiating text, increased levels of ambition from China, the U.S. and from European countries, and $10bn pledged to the Green Climate Fund with the prospect of more to come. But of course Paris is not the destination. It is just a very necessary way station on the road to a sustainable world.

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