On 21 September, shortly before the start of the Climate Action Summit convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, governments, UN officials and civil society gathered to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The event was hosted by the Bureau of the UNFCCC under the leadership of Michał Kurtyka, President of the UN Climate Change Conference COP24. It was attended by the Deputy-Secretary General Amina Mohammed and other specially invited guests who had been instrumental in the process over the years including the President of COP 20, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal and the President of COP 21, Laurent Fabius.
Michał Kurtyka highlighted the fact the UNFCCC has near universal membership and has over the years created a "toolbox" to cut greenhouse gas emissions, to build resilience to the inevitable impacts of climate change and to provide the necessary technology and capacity building and finance to do so.
"The Convention has delivered a well-designed framework for global climate action for all, respecting national sovereignty but able to gradually ramp up global ambition. The Paris Agreement and Katowice Rulebook are state of the art mechanisms with so much potential. But we need the collective political willingness to now move forward," he said.
Other members of the Bureau highlighted the critical role played by the UNFCCC process as the core multilateral process that over the years had raised awareness of the need to urgently address climate change. While the successes over the years were acknowledged, the need for greater ambition and enhanced implementation was reiterated as was the need to understand the science in order to take effective action.
Speaking at the event in New York, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed pointed out whilst the lack of political will was a concern for António Guterres - which was the reason why he convened the 23 September Climate Action Summit - a major bright spot was that there was now greater collaboration among all actors on the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals and the climate change agenda - something that was lacking before.
Looking back at the 25 years of the UNFCCC, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, said that the last 25 years had been a "time of challenges and opportunities, with disappointments matched by some incredible successes." Countries had gone from the creation of the UNFCCC itself, to the Kyoto Protocol, to the Paris Agreement, to the adoption of its guidelines last year at COP24 in Katowice.
"We are living in a world of unprecedented climate realities around the globe. Record air and ocean temperatures, disastrous weather events, alarming ice melts, out of control wildfires, and atmospheric CO2 levels never seen before in human history. All this is taking place when carbon emissions from the energy industry are rising at their fastest rate since 2011 and environmental regulations continue to be weakened.
She also warned that while together much has been accomplished, much more remains to be done and encouraged everyone to use the Climate Action Summit - which is about increasing ambition and accelerating climate action - to maximum effect.
The President designate of COP25, Chile's Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt, stated that COP25 will build on the momentum of the Climate Action Summit. She also noted that Chile is committed to hosting a conference that moves the UNFCCC process into the next 25 years with renewed vigour and one which creates the momentum that spurs governments and non-State actors towards greater ambition and implementation.
"Governments cannot meet these goals alone - we need action from non-state actors, encouraging industries, cities and citizens to adopt low carbon technologies is essential. National climate action plans are the tools to achieve these goals. That is why it is so important we work together to address these challenges," she said.