UN Climate Chief Patricia Espinosa delivered a keynote address by video today at the High-Level Opening of the virtual Placencia Ambition Forum taking place from 20-21 April in Belize, in which she underlined the need to continue to drive ambition and ensure that countries' national climate action plans, known as NDCs, are as robust as possible.
Organized by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the virtual forum has brought together major actors in the climate change negotiations around the central theme of increasing ambition and safeguarding the goals of the Paris Agreement. The forum, vital to maintain momentum for climate action, is showcasing big ideas to scale up ambition and is featuring local communities, indigenous people, governments and other stakeholders.
Voicing her appreciation for the organization of the virtual meeting in these challenging times, Ms. Espinosa pointed to the significant impacts and opportunities of Covid-19 and climate change:
"With respect to impacts, Covid-19 has revealed the world's vulnerabilities, many of which intersect with the climate crisis. At the same time, it has highlighted the importance of expertise and science, cooperation, information and transparency. And it has, in many cases, demonstrated that societies can, when necessary, pull together to address a global challenge with bold responses."
The Small Island Developing States understood better than anyone else, she said, that while Covid-19 is the challenge of today, climate change is a challenge that preceded it and will continue over the long term, bringing extreme weather events such as Cyclone Harold, a category five storm, which killed dozens when it hit Vanuatu and the neighbouring Solomon Islands earlier this month.
Looking ahead, while the postponement of both the Subsidiary Body meetings and the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 had to be done to protect all those involved, Ms. Espinosa stressed that "delay does not change the need to continue addressing climate change or to boost ambition, and the need to submit NDCs by the end of this year." She underlined the urgent need for climate action to continue unabated through other means, as with this forum, and stated that, "our work in 2020 is not, in any form, on hold."
She congratulated the AOSIS members for the group's decision to join the climate ambition alliance last year, with all members taking the pledge to enhance NDCs and work towards CO2 neutrality by the middle of the century, adding that: "New NDCs need to take into consideration and reflect the latest trends in everything from policies, to the cost of different technologies, to updating rates of renewable energy and many other factors."
Ms. Espinosa cited the announcement by Chile two weeks earlier of its plans for communicating a more ambitious NDC, which she described as both "exciting" and "motivating." She encouraged all AOSIS members to take the boldest steps possible in enhancing ambition and to amplify this message of ambition throughout the year, which "sets an example for other nations to follow suit."
See full speech here:
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for that introduction.
It's a pleasure to participate in this important meeting.
Let me share something personal with you: despite being a life-long diplomat, I'm not sure I appreciated-truly appreciated-the value of meeting face-to-face with friends and colleagues until now.
While I do not know the day when we shall again meet in person, I look forward to the day we do. And I know we will.
In the meantime, I congratulate all of you for holding this meeting and for finding a creative way to move forward on your agenda - despite the challenges posed by Covid-19.
These are difficult days for so many throughout the world. Difficult days, but not days without hope.
Many nations are providing expertise and sending medical equipment to those in need - although they must do more to ensure these goods make it to the most vulnerable nations.
Businesses are modifying product lines to produce desperately-needed items for hospitals and health-care workers.
Heroes, such as doctors, nurses, and community care workers are providing essential services and helping those in need.
Neighbours are looking in on each other-so important in small communities and small nations.
Transportation services are getting food and supplies to remote island nations as best they can.
While Covid-19 and climate change are not the same challenge, they do intersect - with significant impacts and opportunities.
With respect to impacts, Covid-19 has revealed the world's vulnerabilities, many of which intersect with the climate crisis.
At the same time, it has highlighted the importance of expertise and science, cooperation, information and transparency.
And it has, in many cases, demonstrated that societies can, when necessary, pull together to address a global challenge with bold responses.
Furthermore, while COVID-19 is one of the greatest challenges global economies have faced in modern times, recovery also opens an unprecedented window of hope and opportunity...
...an opportunity for nations to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, safe and just - for all people, especially in the most remote and vulnerable parts of the world.
In other words, it's a chance to recover better by transitioning our social and economic models towards fair, inclusive and sustainable development.
That's why we urge governments, as they roll out their financial plans, to make those plans as green and inclusive as possible.
It's more than an investment in bricks and buildings; it's an investment in our long-term health, safety and prosperity.
These are a few ways these two global challenges intersect, but I will spend the remainder of my time focusing on climate change and why it's so important to continue raising ambition.
Because, while Covid-19 is the challenge of today, climate change is a challenge that preceded it and will continue over the long term.
Nobody understands this better than Small Island Developing States.
Climate change is not taking a break for the coronavirus.
Cyclone Harold, a category five storm, killed dozens when it hit Vanuatu and the neighbouring Solomon Islands.
The region was already in a state of emergency because of the virus when it hit.
This is just another example of extreme weather continuing to take lives, homes, careers and futures for many people in the most vulnerable and remote places on earth.
So, while these are difficult days for so many throughout the world, we can't forget that difficult days are the daily reality for many because of climate change.
We must, therefore, continue to drive ambition and ensure NDCs are as robust as possible.
Let me address something I know is on everyone's mind.
As you know, two weeks ago, the COP Bureau decided to postpone the Subsidiary Body meetings until October. They also announced that COP26 is postponed.
This was done with the safety and health of all those involved-here in Germany and attendees from all over the world-in mind. I know everyone appreciates and understands this reality.
However, delay does not change the need to continue addressing climate change, or continuing to boost ambition, and the need to submit NDCs by the end of this year.
Let me repeat that: the decision to postpone COP26 does not relate to the earlier decisions regarding submissions of updated or new NDCs by the end of 2020.
Bottom line? Our work in 2020 is not, in any form, on hold. The climate emergency has not taken time off for the coronavirus. It means our work must and will continue through other means, just as this ambition forum shows.
In fact, the NDCs offer an incredible and needed opportunity for nations to incorporate this idea of "recovering better" from the COVID-19 crisis.
I was pleased to see that AOSIS joined the climate ambition alliance last year, with all members taking the pledge to enhance NDCs and work towards CO2 neutrality by the middle of the century.
I congratulate you AOSIS members for this.
But what are we talking about when we talk about enhancing ambition-especially with respect to island nations?
You will discuss many ideas in this forum, but here are a few quick thoughts.
First, it means recognizing that so much has changed since NDCs were first communicated.
New NDCs need to take into consideration and reflect the latest trends in everything from policies, to the cost of different technologies, to updating rates of renewable energy and many other factors.
For Island nations, it also means examining all potential opportunities related to renewable energy and energy efficiency. This also provides benefits in terms of energy security, health, safety and jobs.
I recognize that these often sound like great ideas but are sometimes difficult to execute. What might work for a G7 nation doesn't quite work the same way in Fiji or elsewhere. Just looking at a map tells us that one size does not fit all.
So, I'd also encourage islands to try different and unique approaches, such as working together in order to improve economies of scale, and to attract resources that can benefit a greater number of people and nations.
These are a few ideas and they will certainly be complemented by more in this forum. I am pleased that this forum features local communities, regions and indigenous communities. We absolutely need and value these contributions.
The more voices we have, the more momentum we can create.
Which brings me to something I must ask of you.
I encourage all AOSIS members to please amplify this message of ambition in 2020 and to engage in any campaigns you can to mobilize other countries.
These are easy times to lose focus-we need your help doing what you always have: reminding people that climate change is not some distant challenge. It is here. It is affecting you right now. And ambition is needed...right now.
For my part, I offer my assistance to small island states to try and help mobilize whatever support you need for the timely communication of more ambitious NDCs.
Ladies and gentlemen, I encourage all of you to take the boldest steps possible in enhancing ambition.
Beyond all else, addressing climate change is a moral obligation. Let me emphasize that this means all nations-not just the smallest ones...or the ones most impacted.
It also sets an example for other nations to follow suit. Two weeks ago, I was pleased to join Chile as they announced plans for communicating a more ambitious NDC.
It was exciting, motivating and, especially in these times when it seems we have returned to some dark past, a chance to prove that we are tired of looking behind...
...that we are ready to take on all challenges; that we are ready to take up, specifically, the climate challenge; that it doesn't matter if a nation is great or small - leadership is not limited by geographical boundaries.
I again thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you today. I know you have an exciting agenda ahead of you. Be bold, be ambitious, and know that we are fully behind you.