By Felix von Geyer
Energized by over 300,000 climate demonstrators who marched through New York ahead of United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon’s climate summit last week, Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) told a Montreal audience on Friday to expect a draft global agreement in Peru this year to address climate change.
“We must, can and will” address climate change, Figueres told the 600 delegates assembled at the Principles for Responsible Investment conference on Friday morning before she listed a host of pledges and commitments that had poured from the New York summit earlier that week.
Three major pension funds committed to invest up to $31 billion into renewable energies to help decarbonize the energy sector in the battle against climate change was one major initiative. A further $100 billion of pension funds were likely to be divested from fossil fuels. The eagerness of 75 of the world’s governments alongside 1,000 global corporations to call for carbon pricing, whether through a cap and trade emissions trading scheme or carbon tax was another major step forward, said Figueres.
Moreover, if the Rockefeller brothers whose ancestor JD Rockefeller founded Standard Oil that later split into what is now Exxon Mobile and ChevronTexaco could divest the Rockefeller Foundation’s investments from oil as they announced last week, then “there is something in the air,” said Figueres.
Figueres asked PRI’s delegates to help her by undertaking three tasks in her quest to find a major global climate agreement in Paris in 15 months’ time.
“Help me to scrub the lobbying practices to avoid systemic risk and avoid human pain,” she said, referring to the lobbying process of the fossil-fuel industry that has helped prevent progress on addressing climate change beyond a broad commitment at the 2009 Copenhagen summit to avoid exceeding two degrees Celsius increase in average global temperatures.
Moreover, Figueres called on investors to maximize their ability to influence Finance Ministers around the world and make them realize that any draft text Peru’s Environment Minister is looking to craft for agreement in Paris in December 2015 is “not an environment agreement but a major technological, economic and risk opportunity,” she said.
Only the previous day, the PRI members had made the ‘Montreal Carbon Pledge’ to track the carbon intensity and profile of $3 trillion of its funds that are otherwise estimated at a total of $22 trillion. Figueres’ third request was direct: “Take that Montreal Carbon Pledge to $22 trillion,” she stated.
Ultimately replacing the old fossil fuel infrastructure with a new energy infrastructure would transition to a better quality of life for everybody by reducing energy insecurities; immigration costs; transportation costs and health costs.
“To get there, we must have the future very, very clear,” said Figueres as she called for “global peaking (of emissions) over the next ten years and then carbon neutrality to restore what the Industrial Revolution disturbed.”
Later during a lunchtime talk at CORIM, the Montreal Council for International Relations, Figueres spoke of further commitments made in New York: the forestry sector pledged to halve deforestation by 2020; palm oil producers committed to zero net deforestation by 2020 while 500 million farmers worldwide sought to move to smart agriculture. Furthermore, an 8,000 kilometre energy corridor through Africa would provide renewable energy and six transnational oil companies were committed to best practices and reporting in acknowledgement that “We’re part of the problem but we can be part of the solution,” Figueres told the diners.
Any global climate agreement in Paris would need to chart the course for the next thirty to fifty years – “way beyond the electoral cycles of anyone,” stressed Figueres who asked the room to put pressure on their subnational governments to address climate change and not to give up on national governments.
“Here’s the truth: the transformation in the energy sector and other sectors will be so huge that we cannot afford to leave behind a country, a family or a person,” the UN’s climate chief declared.
Quoting Montreal-born singer/songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Everybody Knows,’ Figueres added that “Everybody knows – that we can do it. And everybody knows that deep in your heart that we have a choice about the future,” she said, stressing society had a choice to move into a low-carbon future either by crashing into physics or developing its policies.
“And everybody knows that it’s in everybody’s interest to move into that future with fifteen months to get this right. If not, it will take ten years to get around the table again and we will have economic disruption and a political crisis,” predicted figueres.