UN General Assembly stimulates action on climate change

The UN General Assembly’s annual gathering of world leaders in New York this year, which was hosted by UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, embarked on promoting action to slow climate change.

The UN Chief Administrative Officer urged world leaders to make concrete commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions, not just present ‘beautiful speeches’.

The message resonates with a dire warning that if no concrete action is taken, the earth’s environment will inevitably face devastating consequences emanating from human activities.

The summit was preceded by a New York City-sanctioned school climate strike and a U.N. Youth Summit featuring 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who drew impressive attention by world leaders.

It is typically attended by 193 UN member states.

Swedish teenaged-campaigner, Greta Thunberg, made a passionate speech in which she accused world leaders of failing to act on climate change. 

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said.

It is usually an ideal opportunity for world leaders to challenge themselves for inaction while knowing the imminent dangers of climate change. 

However, all delegates admit that the worst cause of climate change is over-dependence on fossil fuel. 

A conspicuous absence of US representation in intergovernmental discussions prior to the UN summit continues to indicate President Trump’s skepticism and indifference about global warming.

Criticisms have been leveled at the USA, where President Trump walked away the USA from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. A thing that has potentially created a huge gap to the global commitment in fighting climate change.

It remains uncertain if the U.S will one day, in the near future, reverse its controversial position. 

Because everyone would wish to see it re-joining the global community’s cause.

Fighting climate change is, indubitably, a noble cause that concerns every single state, every single organization, every single corporation and every single person.

The UN Summit coincided with the release of ‘the third in a series of UN Special Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

According to a UN panel of scientists, waters are rising, the ice is melting, and species are moving habitat due to human activities.

Climate change is reaching a defining moment of our time. Climate change devastating consequences are all over, inter alia, on the lands, on the seas and in the air.

In fact, the loss of permanently frozen lands threatens to unleash even more carbon, hastening the decline.

There is some guarded hope that the worst impacts can be avoided, with deep and immediate cuts to carbon emissions.

What’s the importance of the ocean and cryosphere for people in general?

According to the UN Report, “all people on Earth depend directly or indirectly on the ocean and cryosphere. The global ocean covers 71 per cent of the Earth's surface and contains about 97 per cent of the Earth’s water.  The cryosphere refers to frozen components of the Earth system. Around 10 per cent of Earth’s land area is covered by glaciers or ice sheets. The ocean and cryosphere support unique habitats and are interconnected with other components of the climate system through a global exchange of water, energy, and carbon. The projected responses of the ocean and cryosphere to past and current human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and ongoing global warming include climate feedbacks, changes over decades to millennia that cannot be avoided, thresholds of abrupt change, and irreversibility.”

A similar Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of scientists previously focused on how the world would cope if the temperature rose by 1.5C by the end of this century and how the lands of the earth would be affected by climate change. However, this new study, looking at the impact of rising temperatures on our oceans and frozen regions, is perhaps the most worrying and depressing of the three.

A question: do these reports ring a bell, more alarmingly, about the devastating consequences of climate change?

Definitely, all these reports make a strong play of the fact that the future of the earth’s environment is still in our hands.

First, all countries must comply with their international obligations, stemming from ratified international instruments, more particularly the Paris Climate Change Agreement, whose principal formula is well-known at this stage. 

That’s rapid cuts in carbon emissions, which remains the most intractable challenge of our time.

The Paris Agreement aims to keep global warming below a 2°C increase by the end of the 21st century and pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C.  If we reduce emissions sharply, consequences for people and their livelihoods will still be challenging, but potentially more manageable for those who are most vulnerable.

Second, public pressure on politicians is an equally important approach to increasing ambition. Campaigns of youth, who form the biggest segment of the world’s population, would have an impressive impact in galvanizing action.

They are dynamic and active. They have the potential to be agents of change for the betterment of the future generation.

To achieve this potential will depend on transformative change. This highlights the urgency of prioritizing timely, ambitious, coordinated and enduring action.

Proper conservation of natural resources is a moral duty incumbent on all of us; it’s for our benefit.

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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