United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a packed convention hall at the UN climate change conference on Wednesday that there was a “frightening” lack of leadership on the threats posed by climate change.
“UN agencies will continue to bring their expertise to bear. But the primary responsibility for action rests with individual states – and for now that means those that have been largely responsible for the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” he told the audience which included some 100 government ministers from around the world.
In what officials described as a strong message to the major powers, he added: “They must do much more to bring their emissions down. While the Kyoto Protocol is a crucial step forward, that step is far too small. And as we consider how to go further still, there remains a frightening lack of leadership.”
Mr. Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed.
“The urgency to act on climate change is unquestionable We have heard a lot about what scientists have to say, but what about the countries?” Mr. de Boer asked. “With the well-being of humankind at stake, it is unacceptable to see time being lost in the international climate change process. Delay in decision making and action puts the world in danger of becoming hostage to climate change.”
Climate change, Mr. Annan said, was not merely an environmental issue, but an all-encompassing threat. He said it threatened the advent of a warmer world in which diseases like malaria and yellow fever would spread further. It would imperil the global food supply and render coastal cities like Lagos or Cape Town vulnerable to inundation as sea levels rise. Not to mention what he called billion-dollar weather calamities.
He said it was not science fiction that climate change was also a threat to peace and security as changing rain patterns, for example, could heighten competition for resources.
“The good news is that there is much that we can do in response,” he said citing cleaner fuel consumption and renewable energy.
As he chided the wealthy world powers, he did not spare poorer nations in his wake-up call on the global climate threat:
“In the developing countries, emissions cannot continue to grow uncontrolled. Many of them have taken impressive action on climate change. Rapidly growing economies, like China, have been increasingly successful in decoupling economic growth from energy use, thereby reducing the emission intensities of their economies. But more needs to be done,” Mr. Annan said calling on individuals to play their role too in the conservation of energy and natural resources.
Others on the podium in Nairobi included Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, his Swiss counterpart Moritz Leuenberger, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anne Tibaijuka and UNEP Executive Director, Mr. Achim Steiner.
President Kibaki said tackling climate change was not a choice but an imperative: “Climate change is a problem whose solutions cannot be postponed. We need to agree on the necessary solutions today and not tomorrow and have the courage to implement the decisions that we shall agree upon.”
Mrs. Tibaijuka stressed that success at the convention was critical as the planet entered an irreversible new urban age with half of humanity already living in cities.
“In this new urban age, the impact of climate change takes place in cities, towns and villages,” she said. The solutions to the global problem therefore had to local.
President Leuenberger of Switzerland said climate change created a common bond among humanity. “We are united by melting glaciers – in Africa and in Europe, by floods – In America and Asia, and by droughts and a shortage of fresh water - in Australia and Africa.”
He called on delegates to consider introduction of an international carbon dioxide tax so that those who polluted most would pay most. In a message similar to that of the Secretary-General, he added, “This is not a fight against nature. It is a battle against sort-sighted egoism, a fight against unreasonableness and blindness.”