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World’s governments must take action on climate change

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By Samantha Smith, Leader of WWF’s Global Climate & Energy Initiative
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With raw emotion cracking his voice and tears welling in his eyes, Naderev Saño, the Philippines’ lead negotiator at the UN climate summit, took the microphone and urged the world to help his country protect itself from the devastation wrought by the latest super typhoon.

That was last year.

On Monday morning, as the latest annual climate summit, known as COP 19, opened in Warsaw, he was invited to take the microphone once more. With at least 10,000 of his country’s citizens feared to have been killed last Friday by Typhoon Haiyan, his urgent testimony was the most powerful reminder possible as to why we are gathered in the Polish capital.

“Less than a year hence, we cannot imagine that a disaster much bigger would come,” he said. “It was so strong that if there was a Category 6, it would have fallen squarely in that box. We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate. It is now time to take action. We need an emergency climate pathway.”

Then, in a moment of high drama, Saño stunned the hall by vowing to go on hunger strike until significant progress was achieved at the summit.

The global community simply cannot keep ignoring the desperate, passionate cries of people such as Naderev Saño. Millions around the world are already suffering greatly from the impacts of our fast changing climate and scientists keep telling us that such damage and disruption will only intensify in the years and decades ahead.

As recently as September, the hundreds of international scientists that form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) collectively warned us in their latest report that we face a stark choice: urgently reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and have a decent shot at preventing the world from warming above “safe” levels; or continue on a Business As Usual emissions pathway and face a future which is likely to see the planet warm by at least 4C by the end of this century.

In other words, our collective future is still in our hands. But time is FAST running out. Major organisations ranging from the IPCC and World Bank, though to the International Energy Agency and UNEP, are ALL telling us the same thing. Global emissions must peak within this decade – and then be radically reduced by mid-century – or else we will commit the planet, and the people and species it supports, to ever more intense typhoons, sea level rise, ocean acidification, heatwaves, diminishing glaciers and ice caps, and floods.

WWF is therefore here in Warsaw at the COP19 climate summit to call on the world’s governments to stop prevaricating, delaying and obstructing. We have just two years before a global climate deal is due to be signed at COP21 in Paris. If a meaningful deal is not struck in 2015 then our narrow window of opportunity will have passed. Warsaw is a vital staging post on the road to Paris. The hundreds of government negotiators that are here must stop allowing their heads to be turned by the vested interests of the fossil fuel lobbyists. Instead, they must deliver the following:

  • Agree to concrete steps to close the pre-2020 emissions gap.
  • Set up an independent expert process on equity tasked with proposing an equity reference framework.
  • Devote high-level political energy to mobilizing climate finance, and ensure that a clear trajectory is agreed at COP 19 for scaling up public finance towards US$ 100 billion per annum by 2020.
  • Agree on a roadmap for a new climate agreement to be agreed in Paris by 2015.

Unfortunately, the Polish government, which is hosting this year’s climate summit, has so far shown us how NOT to handle these vitally important negotiations by having embarrassingly low ambitions and by allowing its pro-coal agenda to cast a long, dark shadow over proceedings.

WWF urges the Polish government to listen to the testimony of people such as Naderev Saño. We urge it to listen to the world’s scientific institutions which are quite clear about the crucial need to rapidly reduce global emissions. We urge it to listen to the fast-growing evidence that a clean, green energy portfolio can deliver both economic prosperity and energy security. The Polish government can secure its place in history by ensuring that its COP19 in Warsaw is remembered for all the right reasons.

As Saño told the summit: “We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.”

Let’s heed his call.

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