Reaching the Summit: United in Combating Climate Change?

As Leonardo DiCaprio took centre stage at last week’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York, you could be forgiven for envisaging him as one of the many characters he has portrayed. This was not, however, Leonardo DiCaprio the actor, but Leonardo DiCaprio the Climate Change activist.

‘This body, perhaps more than any other gathering in human history, now faces this difficult but achievable task. I beg of you to face it with courage. You can make history or be vilified by it.’

Designated as the ‘UN Messenger of Peace’ by Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, DiCaprio’s speech delivered an underlying message of change, heavy in rhetoric, urging his audience to take urgent decisive action.

However, DiCaprio’s involvement in last week’s proceedings was ultimately that of a supporting role when considering the underlying intentions of the Climate Summit. With more than 100 Heads of State and Government in attendance, together with a further 800 leaders of business and finance, the main purpose of the Summit was to prompt political awareness and create momentum to be taken into next year’s Climate Change Conference in Paris.


Although no defining Climate Change agreements were made, this was never the fundamental purpose of the assembly. Undeniably, the success of the Summit should be instead judged by the levels of enthusiasm and support created during, and perhaps more significantly, in the wake of the Climate summit.

Of the world leaders in attendance, surprisingly, it was US president Barack Obama whose speech to the assembled delegates epitomised the stance of unity, stating ‘We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about.’ This admission, coupled with recent announcements that US power plants will have CO2 regulations imposed, would suggest that the tide is turning with regard to the universal acceptance and governance of climate change.

The summit resulted in many political leaders agreeing to attempt constraining temperature rises within 2 degrees, by making significant cuts to emissions worldwide and ensuring that greenhouse gas emissions peak before 2020. This was strengthened by China, the world’s single biggest emitter of CO2, pledging to cut the carbon intensity of their rapidly growing economy by 45%. In addition, the European Union’s commitment to a 40% reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2030.

A stand out feature that emerged from the summit was the united support for financing low carbon and climate-resilient development, with an excess of $200 billion of funds proposed. This included the backing of the Green Climate Fund, a mechanism used to distribute money amongst developing countries for projects combating climate change. Although the Green Climate Fund initial pledges totalled a measly $2.3 billion, the EU has also committed a further $18 billion to be delivered between 2014 and 2020. Furthermore, additional market based proposals included the introduction of a carbon price, which was supported by more than half of the delegates in attendance.

This willingness of government and business leaders to make funding pledges is telling of the growing consensus amongst policy makers that the issue of climate change is not one to be ignored. When drawing initial conclusions on the success of last week’s UN Climate Summit, the underlying message displayed is one of positivity based upon an apparent desire to work together towards a singular long-term goal.

Alas, actions are of course louder than words. Progressive pledges could easily become empty promises without decisive action being taken at next year’s conference in Paris. To quote the UN Messenger of Peace in one of his more conventional roles, ‘Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.’

As the focus turns to Paris 2015, we are left to wonder if the progress and unity reported shall be built upon or will instead, ultimately, fall by the wayside. Was there an enthusiastic togetherness displayed last week by our world leaders? Yes. Will this result in a clear and definite move towards unified action against climate change? Only time will tell.

Author: Dougie Phillips

Illustration: Daniel Wilson



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