United Nations gearing up for climate summit

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders – from government, finance, business, and civil society – to a summit on climate change on the 23rd of this month. The aim is to raise the issue of global warming, in terms of mitigation and adaptation, up the political agenda ahead of the 2015 climate talks in Paris, where, it is hoped, a meaningful global agreement will be hammered out.

Climate Summit 2014, which will take place at the UN headquarters in New York, is one of several important milestones on the way to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) talks in Paris at the end of 2015.

Final climate change assessment report: Later this year, on 31October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish the final volume of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which provides “an up-to-date view of the current state of scientific knowledge relevant to climate change”. It consists of three Working Group (WG) reports and a Synthesis Report (SYR) which integrates and synthesises all the WG material for policy-makers.

The three WG reports have already been published. WG I provides a comprehensive assessment of the physical science basis of climate change. WG II considers the vulnerability and exposure of human and natural systems, the observed impacts and future risks of climate change, and the potential for and limits to adaptation. WG III assesses the options for mitigating climate change and their underlying technological, economic and institutional requirements.

WG III is of particular interest to the natural gas community because of what it says about the potential role of gas in climate change mitigation. It contains several crucial messages – some positive and some that should be ringing alarm bells. In particular, a clear message is that natural gas only has a promising long-term future as a power generation fuel in a carbon-constrained world if carbon capture and storage (CCS) proves to be feasible.

On the prospects for the development of CCS, the IPCC notes that it has yet to be applied at scale to a large, operational fossil fuel plant anywhere in the world.  However, it adds that all the components needed for integrated CCS systems already exist and “are in use today by the fossil fuel extraction and refining industry”.

UNFCCC conferences: The next major event in the UNFCCC calendar is a climate change conference that takes place from 20-25 October in Bonn, Germany – the sixth part of the second session of The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

That will be followed by the next Conference of the Parties meeting (COP 20), which takes place in Lima, Peru, from 30 November to 11 December.

COP 21 – the meeting on which so many hopes have been pinned for a meaningful international climate change treaty – will be held in Paris, the French capital, from 30 November to 11 December in 2015. It remains to be seen whether it turns out to be a success or the kind of disappointment that emerged in Copenhagen in 2009.

“Alarmed” at the pace of action: In the run-up to the UN meeting later this month, Ban Ki-moon writes: “Climate change has been one of my top priorities since the day I took office in 2007. I said then that if we care about our legacy for succeeding generations, this is the time for decisive global action. I have been pleased to see climate change rise on the political agenda and in the consciousness of people worldwide. But I remain alarmed that governments and businesses have still failed to act at the pace and scale needed.

“Time is running out. The more we delay, the more we will pay. Climate change is accelerating and human activities are the principal cause, as documented in a series of authoritative scientific reports [AR5] from the IPCC. The effects are already widespread, costly and consequential — to agriculture, water resources, human health, and ecosystems on land and in the oceans. Climate change poses sweeping risks for economic stability and the security of nations.

“I have travelled the world to see the impacts for myself, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from the low-lying islands of the Pacific threatened by rising seas to the retreating glaciers of Greenland, the Andes and the Alps. I have seen encroaching deserts in Mongolia and the Sahel and endangered rain forests in Brazil. Everywhere I have talked with people on the front lines who are deeply concerned about the threat of climate change to their way of life and their future . . .

“Climate Summit 2014 has two goals: to mobilise political will for a meaningful universal agreement at the climate negotiations in Paris in 2015; and to catalyse ambitious action on the ground to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen resilience to the changes that are already happening.

“I have invited leaders from government, business, finance and civil society to present their vision, make bold announcements and forge new partnerships that will support the transformative change the world needs.”

Caption to photo: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the cultural opening ceremony of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, hosted by the government of Samoa. Source: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

By Alex Forbes