World leaders have met in New York to inject a sense of urgency into the slow burning international dialogue on world climate change and its affects.
The United Nations summit has been held after tens of thousands rallied in cities around the world in support of action on climate change earlier this week.
The meeting has been touted as a momentum builder ahead of the crunch Paris conference in 2015, which aims to solidify a deal on reduction of emissions after 2020.
It’s the first time in over five years world leaders have met to tackle the issue, the last attempt extracting little success in Copenhagen where a binding agreement was never reached.
French President Francois Hollande made the first concrete commitment of the summit, pledging $1 billion in climate aid over the next two years.
“We need to define a development model for the next 30 years to enable access to goods for the people of the world and at the same time conserve the planet,” he said.
“Each one of us must bear in mind the failure of Copenhagen, today we have an obligation to succeed.”
The $1 billion dollar commitment was met with skepticism by Oxfam though, who claim France has a “tradition of mixing grants and loans in its climate finance commitments,” which “raised questions about the nature of the pledge”.
The aid agency went further and criticised the meeting as whole in falling short on what’s required to enact genuine change because, "…few governments will be in a position to make any real commitments”.
Despite those criticisms South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye took the stand to spruik her country’s efforts on climate change and the notion of ‘climate aid.’
South Korea commits $100 million annually to the Green Climate Fund, which transfers climate ‘aid’ from developed countries to developing countries in a bid to help them adjust to climate change.
“Next year we will become the first Asian country to implement a nationwide emissions trading scheme. We will also let frugal consumers save electricity back to the grid,” Guen-hye said.
“Tackling climate change needs to proceed on several fronts. First, we need to see climate action not as a burden but as an opportunity.”
Hours after ordering air strikes on Syria, US President Barack Obama used is own address to goad the Chinese, saying the game had changed and the world’s biggest emitter had to show some leadership and responsibility.
“Just a few minutes ago I met with Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli and reiterated my beliefs that, as the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a special responsibly to lead. That’s what big nations have to do.”
“Emerging economies are likely to produce more and more carbon emissions in years to come. So nobody can stand on the sidelines of this issue, we have to set aside the old divides,” he said.
With the US recently overtaking both Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil and gas producer, the President warned of resistance from different interests in taking action.
“…None of this is without controversy. In each of our countries there are interests that will be resistant to action.”
“We cannot condemn our children and their children to a future that is beyond their capacity to repair. Not when we have the means… to begin repairing it right now.”
Despite the stern words, legal agreement on a final deal will be hard to come by in the US with negotiators acknowledging that a deeply divided Congress is unlikely to ratify a legally binding treaty.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was a notable absentee from the meeting of world leaders and key carbon market players. His absence puts Australia in the same company as other major industrial economies to snub the event including India, Russia, Canada, UAE and Germany.
Abbott already had plans to be in New York next week to enter talks on the military situation in Iraq, but ruled out leaving early to attend the summit.
“My first duty in a sense is to the Australian parliament and that’s where I’ll be early in the week,” he told ABC radio.
“There are quite a lot of things happening in the Australian parliament in the next week or so.”
European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said it was for Australians to gauge Mr Abbott’s absence from such an important gathering.
“Of course the world will interpret who is showing up and who will not be showing up, so that’s for your Prime Minister and your government to decide what kind of profile do they want to have in this.”