Pledges, promises and a poem – The UN Climate Summit 2014

On 21 September 2014, the world has seen the biggest ever climate march, which drew about 400.00 people to the streets of NYC. On 23 September 2014, about 120 heads of state and government followed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s invitation to the UN climate summit 2014. Many states – as well as corporations – made pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While with these events momentum is brought back in the climate talks, the pledges amount to “too little, too late”. Much more action needs to be taken soon to keep global temperature increases somewhere close to 2 degrees Celsius.

Under the umbrella of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), states currently negotiate a new global agreement which can take the form of “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties”. This agreement is to be adopted at the 20th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Paris, December 2015, and to come into effect and be implemented from 2020.

While the negotiations on this agreement have advanced significantly over the last year, no draft text exists yet as to show how the architecture of the agreement will look like. Certainly, elements such as mitigation, adaptation, means of implementation and institutional arrangements will be a part of it. Yet, how much will be done and by whom are still open questions. The UN summit has given some indications of what states might be willing to agree to. The pledges of states – which in the climate negotiations currently take the form on “intended nationally determined contributions” – will have to stand the scrutiny of the world public before they find their way into the agreement. Other states, civil society, businesses will have the chance to see what is on the table. It can only be hoped that public pressure – and peer pressure – can and will increase these pledges to a level where they are adequate for meeting the 2 degree goal.

One voice at the UN climate summit made clear the urgency of the task: A young mother’s letter to her 7 months old daughter. In this beautiful poem, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands brought home to the delegates the fact that climate change does not respect spatial nor temporal boundaries. The poem is also a promise to her child – and all children, including those yet to be born – that the world will stand up to this immense task.

The next round of climate negotiations is set for 1-12 December in Lima, Peru. It is expected that a draft negotiation text emerges from the Lima talks. This draft will give an indication of what can be expected from the Paris summit next year. It might also give an indication of the fate of the world.