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What we need from the UN Climate Summit

22 September 2019

Three days after millions of people took to the streets around the world to demand action on climate change, attention turns to the UN Climate Summit in New York where politicians gather to plan a way forward. Will they have listened to those millions of voices?

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in climate marches across Ireland. (Photo: Garry Walsh / Trócaire)

The UN Secretary General has told Governments to arrive with plans, not speeches. He has called this Summit because we are way off track for meeting the targets set in the Paris Agreement. Almost four years after that landmark agreement was reached, we have yet to see a response at the scale and pace needed. 

So, what do we need to happen in New York? 

The first thing to say is that these events are important. Climate change is a global crisis and people from around the world need to come together to work on collective solutions.  I’m here to meet with and listen to politicians, policy-makers, organisations working on the frontline of this crisis and donors interested in funding responses. The only way out of this crisis is for these people to come together to talk, listen and plan. 

In short, what we need to happen is for Governments from around the world to outline their plans to rapidly increase their actions to reduce the climate crisis. Individual actions are important. We can all make changes to our lives that make a contribution. As an organisation, Trócaire has set targets for reducing our own emissions. Last year we reduced our emissions by 9 per cent and we want to see that continue. 

Ultimately, however, we need action at government level to provide us all with the systems to build a more sustainable planet. 

Devastating impact

Trócaire sees the impact of climate change on a daily basis. We see it in the droughts that leave farming families hungry. We see it in the storms that leave entire communities destroyed. We see it in the floods that drown crops under metres of water. 

Malawi climate change

Community members in Zomba, southern Malawi, gather at a new water pump installed with the help of Trócaire supporters (Photo: Alan Whelan / Trócaire)

People from the developing world are here to tell those stories – how they are being plunged into poverty, hunger and desperation by the worsening impacts of climate change. 

On Sunday, I listened as representatives from developing countries told their stories. 

The Attorney-General of Fiji spoke about how his country had battled three major storms in a single year. They simply can’t afford to continue to respond to these crises, he warned. 

Myanmar’s Minster for the Environment reported that 190,000 people in that country have been displaced by cyclones so far this year. 

The  Secretary of Bhutan’s National Environmental Commission said that the poorest countries contribute 1 per cent of emissions but suffer the majority of the worse climate impacts. 

We need change, and we need Governments of industrialised countries to lead that change. 

Ireland must act

Sadly, Ireland is a poor performer. The Climate Action Network (CAN) recently ranked Ireland bottom of the EU table for its response to climate change. 

This Summit is a chance for Ireland to finally step-up to the plate. In his speech to the UN on Monday, the Taoiseach must signal clear support for the proposal by the President-elect of the European Commission for the EU to increase its target to at least a 55 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. 

Failure to support this ambition will see Ireland continue to be classified as a major blocker of progress. 

Last Friday, tens of thousands of Irish people joined with millions of people around the world to demand action. On Monday we will find out whether our Government listened. 

Caoimhe de Barra is CEO of Trócaire.

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