Yesterday’s Climate Summit brought us the greatest assembly of world leaders to discuss climate change. It also featured Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands as the civil society representative.
Even with Kathy's strong plea for world leaders to take the lead on climate change. It was apparent that most major countries were unwilling to match the urgency of the summit with reasonable goals. Close to half of the world’s population was not represented by their heads of state as top leaders from China and India were not present. Also absent: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Those four countries account for forty percent of the world's population. China and India are the first and third largest producers of carbon dioxide emissions and studies show that their production rates will continue to rise.
Though China and India's heads of state were absent, President Obama was present. As the president of the USA, the country with the second highest carbon emissions, his speech was highly anticipated. He started his speech by placing climate change as the defining issue of the century: “Of all the immediate challenges that we have gathered to address this week – terrorism, instability, inequality, disease, there is one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.”
President Obama’s speech was far reaching, as he cast a net of responsibility engulfing all countries: “We can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation - developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.”
The United States under the Obama administration has implemented many initiatives to combat climate change. “[We have] reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth” Obama said. Although commendable more needs to be done. Last year alone, global greenhouse gas emissions rose 2.3 percent. That's after we saw a 12 percent decline in 2012.
Regardless of his powerful speech, president Obama presented no new commitments. He simply kicked the can down the road when he said, “by early next year, we will put forward our next emission target.” Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of China shared an equal amount of dedication: “We will announce post-2020 actions on climate change as soon as we can.”
In addition, the USA will not make any commitments to the Green Climate Fund, a UN program that helps raise funds to aid developing countries who are most at risk of climate change. In 2009, major nations set a goal of donating $100 billion a year. They have yet to own up to that figure.
Following the summit, world leaders were scheduled to meet for dinner to discuss possible policies on global climate change. Many did not show up. British politician and former climate minister Gregory Parker said, “President Obama is a few blocks away [from the dinner] at a party in the Waldorf-Astoria. China’s [premier Xi Jinping] is thousands of miles away. The prime minister of India [Narendra Modi] could not make time for it. The chancellor of Germany [Angela Merkel], the biggest economy in Europe, is in Berlin. We will never get a deal on climate change if leaders don’t turn up.”
It wasn’t only world leaders who showed lackluster efforts on such a crucial topic, network coverage for the summit was slim to nonexistent. America's attack on ISIS dominated the media and the climate summit saw only minutes, even seconds of airtime.
The dull responses of major countries to climate change is worrisome. But there is hope, and it's coming from those least responsible for climate change.
Micronesian countries have taken significant strides to reverse the changing climate. Although results are miniscule comparative to what is needed to reverse climate change, Micronesian countries and other Oceania countries are leading the way.
And as long as we have the likes of Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon heading the UN we will continue to pressure all leaders to make "meaningful" and "universal" changes. Although no serious commitments were made at the summit, the meeting was a needed reminder that climate change is on the world agenda.
We must take time to praise the many scientists and researchers who continue to look for solutions. In a collaborative effort researchers have outlined possibilities to reduce fossil fuel dependency and ultimately climate change, for free.
We need to look beyond short term goals. Climate change is a global problem that requires the efforts of every country and every individual right now. The people of Oceania are ready, the rest of the world need to get on board. More importantly, the main contributors to climate change need to take the lead.
"I ask world leaders to take us all along on your ride, we won't slow you down, we'll help you win the most important race of all, the race to save humanity." (Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner).