COP21: UN climate chief says swift responses required

Oxfam director warns agreement to limit warming to 2.7 degrees could not be called a success

Many impressive responses to climate change have emerged in recent years but they need to be deployed immediately to avoid the rapid rise of world temperatures, the UN’s leading official on climate change has said.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the range of initiatives - from new technology, to conservations, to behaviour change - were brilliant.

Many of these solutions and responses to climate change will be highlighted during the course of 'Action Day' at COP21, the day in which non-Government bodies highlight their responses to climate change.

Ms Figueres said it was imperative that there was a move from “action day” to “action world”.


“It needs to be that all these initiatives which are so fantastic, they need to become the norm. We need to do that very quickly.”

She said this was so because the responses were not enough “compared to the speed, scale and depth of the transformation we will need over the next five years.”

‘Limit rise’

Later, the executive director of Oxfam, Winnie Byanyima, warned the audience that an agreement coming out of COP21 to warm the planet by 2.7 degrees could not be called success.

“No, that is a failure,” she said. “Let us try to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees.”

It came as environmental collective Climate Action Network (CAN) indicated there had been some progress in negotiations involving officials this week.

A new refined text of the proposed agreement has been published on Saturday ahead of the final technical session. It is the third draft to be published in three days and seem to indicate there has been movement in terms of limiting global temperatures.

That will form the basis of the high-level talks, involving government ministers from over 180 countries, which begin on Monday.

Striking a more positive note, Liz Gallagher of E3G, speaking at a CAN media conference, said the approach of parties had become more sophisticated and the North-South divide was not so apparent, except on the question of finance.

Ms Gallagher said “landing points” for the discussions were becoming more visible and the text on mitigation measures were starting to look better.

“We have seen 18 months of wrangling but now we will see a little bit of [MOVEMENT],” she said.

She said Saudi Arabia had blocked a number of important measures, including attempts to increase decarbonisation globally.

Ms Gallagher said the “ambition” or “ratcheting” part of the talks - trying to exhort countries to be more ambitious in tackling climate change in the future - was the least mature area of the negotiations.

Action Day at COP21 involves non-state participants including businesses, local governments, international organisations, research centres and local communities.

10,000 pledges

More than 10,000 individual commitments or pledges have been made by non-State bodies to curb emissions. Hundreds of participants will highlight their contributions, including such high-profile activists as former US vice president Al Gore and former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg.

Elsewhere in Paris, authors Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben will be involved in protests over climate change at Montreuil. They will preside over a mock trial accusing petroleum company Exxon Mobil of the greatest climate change crime of the century.

At the opening of Action Day, French foreign minister and president of COP21, Laurent Fabius, said the occasion represented a "second turning point" for the two week global summit in Le Bourget.

He said that since the last COP conference in Lima, they had received "concrete commitments from thousands and thousands of companies, local authorities and individuals from more than 180 countries.

“Today you will hear about how we protect the planet from climate change and how tomorrow’s world will look like. By the end of the day we will understand just how far we have got,” he said.

Ms Figueres said technology was becoming more accessible and finances were becoming more available. “We are seeking increasing political will from governments, from sub-governments, from companies, from everybody,” she said.

In the first session, French environment minister Ségolène Royal pointed to the damage that was being done to the natural environment by human intervention.

She listed sea levels rising three times faster than a century ago, the depletion of 90 per cent of fish resources, 55,000 km/sq of forest being lost each year, and extensive dumping of plastics in the seas.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times