Ireland must step up at UN climate summit in New York
Tangible commitments and ambition will boost our bid for security council seat
A fire burns in a in Porto Velho, Brazil, this month. The cruellest injustice of climate change is that it impacts first and hardest on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Photograph: Fernando Bizerra/EPA
‘The fires raging over the past fortnight conjured what you’re never meant to witness: this is what the end of the world looks like.”
These are the words of Nick Patton Walsh, one of CNN’s most seasoned reporters and someone who is not given to hyperbole. Perhaps that’s why his dramatic description of the Amazon fires sends such a cold shiver down the spine and gives credence to the fact that, in 2019, we are already witnessing genuine climate breakdown.
Cyclonic events of unprecedented force in the Indian Ocean, devastating heatwaves and wildfires across Europe, the US, Australia and even the Arctic Circle, and recurring drought through the Horn of Africa are all showing the speed of climate breakdown and underscoring the gravity of its threat to our planet and its species.
The summit comes at a time when multilateralism is in crisis, a time of deepening political turmoil
The harsh reality is that for many, climate change is not about the future – it is about now. For the tribes in the Amazon whose ancient land has been razed; for the countless communities in the Bahamas and the wider Caribbean whose homes have been swept away during the fourth consecutive season of unusually strong hurricanes; for the communities and pastoralists living across vast swathes of the Sahel, east and southern Africa, who depend on land that is being progressively eroded by drought.
The cruellest injustice of climate change is that it impacts first and hardest on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, those most dependent on the elements for survival, whose carbon footprint is almost non-existent, those who have contributed least to the problem and have the least capacity to adapt to it.
The evidence is grim. Extreme weather affected almost 62 million people in 2018, with 35 million people’s lives devastated by floods and 9 million people severely affected by drought across Kenya, Afghanistan and Central America.
Their plight deserves fierce urgency and real political action as the window for action narrows.
Despite last year’s landmark Intergovernmental Panel report on Climate Change, which comprehensively laid out the scale of action needed in the next two years to avert irreversible climate breakdown, the vast majority of nation states have not stepped up their ambition to act since the Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015.
Today’s United Nations climate summit in New York is therefore a critical moment for member states to take responsibility for our planet. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has warned global leaders to come to the summit not with words but with “concrete, realistic plans” to contribute in a meaningful way to tackle the crisis.
The summit is a platform for Ireland to showcase our values, our principles and our tangible commitments
The summit comes at a time when multilateralism is in crisis, a time of deepening political turmoil, with the US retreating from its leading role at the UN and Britain’s protracted and troubled exit from the EU preoccupying international attention.
It’s a time when the United Nations and the instruments of international diplomacy have not only failed to resolve ongoing conflict, but when some members of the security council continue to fuel some of the most deadly wars.
Against this backdrop of global challenges, Ireland is campaigning for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 term. Ethical leadership is required now more than ever and much can be achieved as a temporary member of the security council. Though the council is in need of reform there is precedent for small nations to affect real change.
Ireland has already shown its capability to influence by playing a pivotal role at the UN through co-facilitating the process of agreeing the sustainable development goals, which was a monumental achievement.
Ireland can be proud of the leading role it has played in organising the first Youth Climate Action Summit which takes place in parallel to the current climate action summit and promoting dialogue with small island states.
However, Ireland is the third-highest emitter of carbon in the EU, per capita. We need to support the new EU target of reducing emissions by 55 per cent by 2030, proposed by president-elect of the new commission Ursula Von der Leyen.
Many EU states have publicly stated their support for this increased ambition. The climate summit is an opportunity for Ireland to join them.
The summit is a platform for Ireland to showcase our values, our principles and our tangible commitments and ambition to build a better world. As the secretary general has said, “Preventing irreversible climate disruption is the race of our lives and for our lives.”
What was once a moral obligation is now a global existential imperative.
The time for change is now.
Caoimhe de Barra is chief executive of Trócaire
Dominic MacSorley is chief executive of Concern
Jim Clarken is chief executive of Oxfam Ireland
Siobhán Walsh is chief executive of GOAL