The First Chapter in a Success Story

By Olav Kjorven, Assistant Administrator and Director, Bureau of Development Policy, UNDP, and member of the UN Secretary General’s climate team

Today at the United Nations, the world is coming together, at the request of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to address a truly global challenge. Climate change is the kind of issue that the UN was created to deal with.

Today, we’ll address the climate challenge with words. Of course, it’s going to take much, much more than that to ensure a sustainable future for our kids, their kids, and beyond, but if today’s discussions inject energy, purpose, and will into the global response to climate change, as the Secretary-General and indeed, we all hope they will, then they will have served a valuable purpose.The threat of climate change is an unprecedented challenge for
humanity: We have never faced a global, self-made calamity such as
this before. Increasingly this is understood by policy makers around
the world, and despite inertia, distractions, and the complexity of the
issue, Monday is their chance to rise to the occasion and demonstrate
their sincere readiness to deal with this challenge. I really think
that we will see a new climate for serious, results-oriented
negotiations after today.

UNDP’s raison d’etre is human development: Helping developing nations
and communities build the skills and knowledge to function better, and
enjoy economic and social advance. The gravity of the climate threat
means we and our partners have to approach development differently.
Climate change can no longer be seen as one of many environmental
problems: It affects all aspects of human development, from
agricultural sustainability to public health. It is indeed a challenge
at the center of what public policy is ultimately about: securing safe
and secure living conditions and economic opportunities for all
people. If we at UNDP do not take climate change seriously, we do not
take development seriously.

And climate change should be broadly recognized as a moral issue.
Those least responsible for climate change are feeling its most
painful and immediate effects, and are least equipped to deal with it.
No matter what we do to limit emissions in coming decades — and we must
significantly reduce emissions if we are to have any hope of coping
with climate change, of course — the poorest and most vulnerable nations
are going to see disastrous impacts. Helping these communities adapt
to climate change will be a tremendously important part of our

We also need to ensure that all countries that ask for it get help in
making climate risk management an integral part of their strategies
for development. This is about much more than making infrastructure
more robust, or about being prepared for the next natural disaster. It
is about coming to terms with fundamental shifts in terms of where
crops can grow, where fish stocks will be found, how much water will
flow in rivers, where pests and disease will strike. Species and
ecosystems will be on the move, with all sorts of complex societal and
economic consequences. Poor communities will be particularly
affected, and governments will have to be able to come up with
workable solutions. We in the UN need to be able to provide assistance
in this regard.

Let me briefly turn my attention to one very important region for some
specifics in terms of response. Africa can contribute very little to
reducing emissions; African countries don’t emit very much at all. But
African countries can contribute to taking carbon out of the
atmosphere. Through its forests and soils, and the conservation and
rehabilitation of them, Africa can help the climate and adapt to
climate change. These things can also help reduce poverty and foster
human development. We have to make carbon finance flow to Africa’s
forests and soils. That would be doing development differently.

I, for one, am really optimistic that today is going to become the
first chapter in a success story. A substantial portion of the world’s
leaders are here, ready to begin work toward reaching a global deal on
emissions by 2009. Climate change is getting record prominence in the
media and in the public consciousness. Everyday citizens know about
climate issues — and care about climate issues — like never before. And
they’re expecting their leaders, with the UN, to act — to turn today’s
words into a thoughtful, cooperative and effective response to this
most serious of global problems.