Don’t let the momentum on global warming go cold

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam International's EU Advocacy Office [Oxfam]

Natalia Alonso, head of Oxfam International's EU Advocacy Office [Oxfam]

Within the course of five days, Brussels will play host to Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. As the international community looks to keep global warming under 2°C, these leaders must insist on the same, writes Natalia Alonso.

Natalia Alonso is the Head of Oxfam International’s European Union Advocacy Office and Deputy Director of Advocacy and Campaigns for the organisation.

At a first glance, it would appear that Europe is at the centre of the world again. US President Barack Obama will touch down in Belgium on Wednesday (26 March), closely followed by China’s Xi Jinping on Monday (31 March). 

The trips are well-timed. As the meetings occur, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be finalising a report, expected to reveal that the impact of climate change on food will be far more serious, and will hit us much sooner, than previously thought.

Leaders should seize this opportunity to show where they stand vis-à-vis people and the planet. Amongst themselves, the three blocs contribute well over half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that they are in a great position to step up leadership and stall the worst impacts of climate change. With every American emitting 17.6 metric tonnes of CO2 per year into the air, compared to Burkina Faso’s 0.1 tonnes per person, the onus is clearly on the US to take radical climate action. But Europe too needs to live up to the climate leadership it likes to apportion itself. With Chinese per capita emissions now following closely on the heels of those in the EU (6.2 versus 7.3 according to World Bank statistics), it is clear that China needs to be part of the solution, as well. The implications for hunger are astonishing. With many of the most climate vulnerable countries situated in the developing world, the progress made in the past decades could be undone, if climate change spirals out of control, as food security is increasingly threatened.

The problem is not solely one for the global south. California is currently battling its worst drought in over 100 years, while the UK is recovering from devastating floods. The IPCC is expected to warn that freak weather events could become the new norm across the world. For Europeans, which import a lot of food – over 70% of which comes from the developing world, including from the most climate vulnerable – this is bad news. Sooner or later, consumers in Europe will start to feel the effects of this. In China, more than 6 million people have been affected by a devastating drought which has hit the southwest province of Yunnan for five years. Some 2.4 million people still struggle to get hold of drinking water.

In September, the three blocs will meet once again, alongside other leaders, this time in New York. There, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon will hold a vital summit aimed at pushing momentum on global ambition ahead of the Paris 2015 climate conference. It is important that the EU, China and the USA arrive at this meeting with clear, detailed roadmaps aimed at preventing the worst impacts both for themselves and the developing world.

Currently, the prospects do not seem promising. The EU-US summit comes just a week after EU leaders failed to recognise the urgency of the climate crisis, by kicking the decision on the EU’s 2030 climate and energy package into a ‘to do list’ for later this year. Meanwhile the United States committed only to carbon reductions of 17% by 2020 and has not yet detailed any targets for beyond that date to bring its emissions in line with what science demands. With strong ambition to cut emissions at home, China is showing promising moves in the right direction,  but it must now shift focus beyond its borders by leading – alongside the US and EU – the international climate talks into a spiral of more ambitious climate action.

The three leaders must treat their meetings this week as an opportunity to push climate change firmly back onto the agenda, finding common ground to keep global warming under 2ºC. Unless the three largest economies in the world are prepared to take progressive steps, political will in other countries, and a response from global markets, will continue to falter. Only by taking such initiatives, can these world ‘leaders’ claim to take global poverty and hunger seriously.

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