UN Climate Speech / 05 Feb, 2009
Delhi Sustainable Development Summit

Delhi Sustainable Development Summit

New Delhi, 5-7 February 2009


Address by
Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change



Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The Secretary-General of the United Nations has termed this year the “year of climate change”. The reason is obvious: Copenhagen. December. 2009.

Copenhagen 2009 will be the moment in history in which humanity has the opportunity to rise to the challenge and decisively deal with climate change. It is beyond the shadow of doubt that greenhouse gas emissions have to be radically reduced to keep climate change from sliding into climate chaos. Once we slide into climate chaos, there will be no place left to hide for anybody.

Science tells us that globally, emission reductions in the order of 50% over 2000 levels are needed by 2050. Industrialised countries need to reduce their emissions by up to 80% over 2000 levels by 2050. Furthermore, global emissions need to peak in the next 10 - 15 years. At the same time, adapting to the inevitable consequences of climate change is a global priority, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable people.

It has become abundantly clear, that climate change needs urgent action.

Across the globe, people are demanding a decisive and clear political solution to climate change to secure their future. A political solution is critical for humanity’s further development as a whole and especially critical for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, who have the least ability to cope. In the long run, climate change is a massive threat to human development.

It is said that to achieve great things, you need two things: a plan and not quite enough time. One might argue that this bodes well for the climate change negotiations. The Bali Road Map is a good plan and time is definitely running out.

Copenhagen is the end-point in the two-year negotiating process under the Bali Road Map. With the Poznan Climate Change Conference, we have just passed the half-way mark in the negotiations towards Copenhagen.

While the Poznan conference was not marked by a major political outcome, it did what it was meant to do. Progress was achieved on a number of specific areas of work:

  • This includes the operationalisation of the Adaptation Fund, which is filled with a 2% levy on projects under the Clean Development Mechanism;
  • The conference also - importantly -endorsed an intensified negotiating schedule for 2009; 
  • Some key issues related to increasing the level of available funding for adaptation and improvements to the Clean Development Mechanism saw a divergence of views and will have to be resolved this year.

But, in terms of the bigger picture, what needs to be achieved in 2009 for an outcome to be agreed in Copenhagen? What needs to be in place to get to an ambitious global deal that can be translated into nationally applicable policies?

To my mind, there are four political essentials that have to be in place by Copenhagen to unleash the level of abatement necessary to match the scale of the problem. These essentials are critical make-or-break elements of a Copenhagen deal that have to be resolved this year.

  1. The first essential relates to clarity on ambitious targets for developed countries.

The new Obama Administration has committed to vigorously reengage in the climate change process and has already announced the appointment of several high-level climate change staff. President Obama’s intention to reduce the US’ emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80% by 2050 translates into a very positive signal!

The European Union has firmly committed to -20% over 1990 levels by 2020 and is putting in place policies to achieve that goal. Its intention of committing to -30% if others follow suit, remains on the table.

Additionally, a number of other industrialised countries including Australia and Norway have already announced their level of ambition. Others, including Japan, are in the process of describing a target.

These are important developments and the world certainly needs clarity on the level of ambition of those who carry the greatest responsibility for the problem. Equally important is the need to ensure comparability of effort. The reduction commitments of industrialised countries need to be pulled together and analysed in view of ensuring that their efforts will indeed be comparable.

  1. The second political essential relates to clarity on nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries.

In Bali, developing countries clearly indicated that they are willing to increase their mitigation activities, but that their overriding concerns of poverty reduction and economic growth remain.

Many developing countries have climate change policies, strategies or programmes in place and have begun implementing them. As a result and as per the Bali Road Map, developing countries need measurable, reportable and verifiable financial and technological support to implement mitigation actions above what they are already doing.

    3. This leads to the third political essential, which relates to clarity that sufficient financial and technological support both for mitigation and, crucially, for adaptation will be generated.

Multilateral and bilateral sources of public funding represent a key component . Yet here it is critical that these are new and additional resources of funding, as opposed to repackaged ODA. However, such public sources are unlikely to provide the type of support that would be sufficient to meet the needs for both mitigation and adaptation.

The current carbon markets represent a promising first step towards generating such support. The higher the level of ambition of industrialised countries, the higher the level of technology transfer, or funds generated for adaptation through the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism.

India has taken to the CDM with enthusiasm and, with 1158 projects, has the highest number of projects of any country. More 25% of the global share of CDM projects in terms of certified emission reductions are in India. India has also benefited from the CDM in terms of technology transfer: an estimated 33% of CDM projects transfer both technology and knowledge.

So it will be important to create a mix of financial instruments with effective disbursement.

  1. This leads to the fourth political essential, which relates to clarity on the institutional framework to deliver support for mitigation and adaptation

Developing countriesby and large are exasperated with the current financial architecture. They want to be in control of the financial institutions that deliver for mitigation and adaptation. It is critical that the funds that are agreed as part of the Copenhagen outcome have governance structures that are well-founded in equality, and respect the interests and needs of developing countries.

Amid the challenges the international community faces this year, Copenhagen is full of opportunity

The world is in the clasp of an economic crisis of note. Projected economic growth rates for 2009 have just been revised downward across the board by the International Monetary Fund, albeit by varying percentage points. The poorest and most vulnerable are already the hardest hit by the global economic woes. Amid this crisis, developing countries’ overarching aims of poverty eradication and economic growth are as relevant and important as ever.

Encouragingly, the economic crises is being used by some, for example China, the EU and the US, as an opportunity to redirect energy policies into a greener future. Linking economic recovery to ambitious climate change policies translates into seizing the opportunity.

Clean industry and investment have proven that they offer secure and long-term profits and returns. Green infrastructure investments can create jobs and stimulate growth in the near-term. For example, each $ 1 million invested into energy efficiency creates 21.5 new jobs, versus 11.5 for gas power generation. Another example: Solar PV creates 7 - 11 times more jobs per megawatt hour than coal or gas.

The economic recovery packages of China, the EU and the US provide strong signs that the leading economies of the world intend to go green in order to embark on a new, sustainable path and in order to respond to the challenge of climate change.

In a globalised world, no economy can thrive if it fails to take account of such profound economic trends. In a globalised world, no economy can thrive if it attempts to be exclusive.

Copenhagen 2009 has an important role to play in the global economy by further strengthening and extending the opportunities inherent in “going green”. It needs to further strengthen the current opportunity for a global green revolution. In this context, it needs to support building up a more inclusive, green pattern of globalization. The green components of economic recovery packages can help Copenhagen come to a result.

Critically, Copenhagen needs to turn developing country mitigation actions into something that both serves and boosts their long-term economic development goals.

The Climate Change Convention clearly requires all Parties to formulate, implement and update national mitigation programmes, within their common but differentiated responsibilities. For developing countries, this was elaborated in the Bali Road Map, with its requirement of measurable, reportable and verifiable support for nationally appropriate mitigation actions without jeopardising the aims of poverty eradication and economic growth.

The key question then is: how can the measurable, reportable and verifiable support fornationally appropriate mitigation actions be turned into something that makes mitigation and economic growth mutually reinforcing across the developing world?

In the negotiations towards Copenhagen, this question needs to be addressed urgently and in detail. Both existing obligations under the Convention and nationally appropriate mitigation actions as per the Bali Road Map need to merge with developing countries’ development goals and become two sides of the same coin.

Ensuring that nationally appropriate mitigation actions support development objectives is the opportunity that Copenhagen needs to harness. This is the opportunity that will lead to poverty eradication and economic growth in the safest and most sustainable way.

The year of climate change is characterised by both necessity and opportunity

The year ahead has been clearly mapped out: four two-week negotiating sessions have been dotted throughout the year, with the possibility of a fifth session before Copenhagen, if needed. Real negotiating mode has begun. The stakes are high, but the price of failure is higher still.

Necessity comes knocking at politicians’ doors regularly. Necessary actions are required for this matter or for that matter. But it is rare that necessity comes knocking hand- in-hand with opportunity. In the process of stepping up action on climate change, necessity and opportunity are indeed hand-in-hand.

I urge you to use the opportunity to the full to ensure that:

  • nationally appropriate mitigation action serves broader development goals on the one hand;
  • and that development goals serve climate change abatement on the other.

Thank you.


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Please note: This is prepared text of the speech and may differ from the delivered version.