Energy & Sustainability: Obama Warns of “Mass Migrations” If Climate Change Is Not Confronted

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Barack Obama final speech to UN General Assembly, 2016 (The Telegraph)

President Obama used his final address to the U.N. General Assembly yesterday to warn that climate change would worsen the kind of unrest and inequality that has spurred a global refugee crisis, according to the Scientific American magazine.

Speaking before a high-level summit on migrants he convened at U.N. headquarters, Obama told the assembly of world leaders and foreign ministers that the problems they are seeing would only worsen in a warming world.

“If we don’t act boldly, the bill that could come due will be mass migrations, and cities submerged and nations displaced, and food supplies decimated, and conflicts born of despair,” he said.

The president, as he has in the past, pleaded for a “sense of urgency” from countries to help bring last year’s landmark Paris climate agreement into force this year. The United States ratified the deal with China early this month, and 31 more countries have done so today.

Obama also acknowledged the need for countries to do more than they promised in the French capital last year if the world is to avoid the worst impacts of warming.

“The Paris Agreement gives us a framework to act, but only if we scale up our ambition,” he said.

The president also alluded to what is likely to be a particular area of focus at a round of U.N. climate talks that opens in Marrakech, Morocco, in six weeks time: money. He said the $10 billion Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help poor nations address warming “should only be the beginning” of the wealthy world’s commitment.

“We need to invest in research and provide market incentives to develop new technologies, and then make these technologies accessible and affordable for poorer countries,” Obama said, adding that these investments would help developing countries “leapfrog” directly to lower-carbon solutions. “And only then can we continue lifting all people up from poverty without condemning our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair.”

$100B PROMISE LOOMS

The Obama administration’s efforts to stay abreast of its $3 billion, four-year commitment to the GCF have been opposed by Republican majorities on Capitol Hill, though a few moderate GOP senators have worked with Democrats to fend off prohibitions on the State Department distributing those funds. Still, more climate aid will be a heavy lift for a future U.S. administration, as Obama acknowledged.

“It’s difficult to spend on foreign assistance,” he said. “But I do not believe this is charity. For the small fraction of what we spent at war in Iraq, we could support institutions so that fragile states don’t collapse in the first place, and invest in emerging economies that become markets for our goods.”

Rich countries have collectively pledged to raise at least $100 billion a year for mitigation and adaptation efforts in the developing world by 2020. The developing world has demanded that this year’s climate talks in Morocco provide a road map to that figure that would provide more details on where the money is coming from and the kinds of activities it would fund. Leveraged private-sector capital might flow to renewable energy, for example, but not toward preventing water infrastructure from being compromised by flooding or helping farmers predict changes in precipitation.

Asked whether a new developed-world commitment would be important in Marrakech, U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa told Climatewire this week that wealthy countries appeared willing to provide poor ones with the assurances they seek.

“The problem in the area of financing is not only about the money, it’s about the projects,” said Espinosa, who presided over the 2010 U.N. summit in Cancun, Mexico, that established the GCF. “Nobody gives anybody a chunk of money without knowing where they want to put it.”

The goal of negotiations will be to bring together projects and financing in a way that gives both donors and developing nations more certainty.

“My impression is that if there are good projects, they get financing,” she added.

Heather Coleman of Oxfam commended Obama for his focus on climate finance but questioned his emphasis on research and development. “We need to direct more public funds to address needs that only governments can respond to as people prepare for and respond to extreme events, and we absolutely need to build political and economic systems that can fairly and adequately support clean energy deployment,” she said.

CLIMATE CHANGE—LAST YEAR’S ISSUE?

Obama’s remarks came before the start of a high-level summit he convened yesterday to boost international commitments to address the refugee crisis. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday held his own summit on a similar theme. But while a declaration released ahead of those meetings noted that climate change is causing resource scarcity that has led to population displacements, the issue rarely came up during the two-day marathon of national statements—except from island nations facing inundation from sea-level rise.

“I felt like it really didn’t advance the agenda enough,” said Ria Voorhaar, director of engagement and outreach at the Global Strategic Communications Council. She commended Obama for making the link between climate and mass migration but said something more “concrete” was needed.

Obama has spent considerable personal time this year pressing for early ratification of the Paris Agreement—a move that would help cement his own legacy, because it would prevent a subsequent administration from withdrawing the United States from the deal for four years. The deal is also a priority for Ban, who steps down at the end of this year.

In a toast during a leaders’ lunch yesterday at the United Nations, the outgoing secretary-general jokingly challenged Obama to a round of golf in retirement, because “we need to find something to do.”

He singled out Obama’s work on climate change as a particular highlight of his own term.

“One of the most memorable moments of my tenure took place just over two weeks ago, at the G-20 meeting, when we stood together as the United States and China joined the Paris Agreement,” said Ban.

“Climate diplomacy faced much opposition and involved many sleepless nights. But now the agreement is on the brink of entering into force. This achievement will surely echo down the decades,” he said.

WAITING ON INDIA, E.U., OTHERS

The Paris Agreement will take effect when 55 countries totaling 55 percent of the world’s emissions become parties to it. The first threshold was met today when 31 countries deposited their instruments of ratification during a ceremony hosted by Ban at the U.N. headquarters.

These include Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Brunei, Dominica, Ghana, Guinea, Honduras, Iceland, Kiribati, Madagascar, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Senegal, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Thailand, Tonga, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates, and Vanuatu, according to the United Nations.

It appears likely that this group of countries will not contribute the necessary emissions to usher the deal into force.

But that second threshold is within striking distance for later this year, when higher-emitting parties like Japan and Canada will submit their papers. India’s entrance to the deal is also possible in 2016, and the European Union—which until last week was viewed as a likely laggard in the race toward ratification—is now likely to join Paris as soon as the first week of October.

The 28-nation bloc previously warned that all of its member parliaments must approve the agreement before Brussels acts, but last week, its membership agreed to let the European Parliament move first. Environment ministers from 27 member nations except for the United Kingdom will give their formal blessing to that plan at a meeting next week, and Brussels could approve the deal the following week. The United Kingdom, which voted earlier this year to withdraw from the European Union, has announced plans to move separately. So the European Union may add its 12 percent of global emissions to the Paris accord by Oct. 7, ensuring that it will be in effect when the Marrakech conference opens.

The United Nations presented a video montage of countries that promise to ratify Paris this year, which included some messages from national European leaders. European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete recorded a message for inclusion in that montage committing the European Union to ratifying Paris.

“The European Union must join the Paris Agreement this year,” he said. “Let’s get it done.”

Ban said the 60 countries that have now ratified Paris after today’s event, plus those that have committed to do so later this year, will satisfy the emissions threshold and place Paris in effect.

“What once seemed impossible is now inevitable,” he said.

Three European nations have already ratified the deal, and the others would move after Brussels acts.

Despite this year’s U.N. focus on migrants, security and other issues, advocates say climate change is still receiving ample attention. The annual Climate Week this week has included more than 100 events.

“The spirit and international momentum built up in Paris are undeniably alive and kicking,” said Marcia Rocha of Climate Analytics. Much of the focus of these side events has been on ways to ratchet up ambition, either through more private-sector engagement or through an emphasis on gaining more traction for a long-term goal of containing warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius below preindustrial levels, rather than the “well below 2” threshold enshrined in Paris.

“It is also great to see that we’ve come such a long way, too, since Paris: Only six months ago, we were talking about whether the agreement would enter into force in 2016, 2017 or 2018, and today, we are talking about when in 2016 it will enter into force,” said Rocha.(Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net. Click here for theoriginal story.)

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