UNFCCC: Special Message to the 10th WEEC

Niclas Svenningsen, UNFCCC, with the Young Reporters for Environment. WEEC2019 (3-7 November 2019)

Your Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn

Dr Sumet Tantivejkul, Honorary Chairman of the World Environmental Education Congress 2019 Steering Committee

Distinguished delegates

Ladies and Gentlemen

Dear friends.

On behalf of the United Nations Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, her excellency Patricia Espinosa, I am honoured to deliver this message to this the 10th World Environmental Education Congress.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC – was established at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The purpose of the convention is to bring together all governments of the world to work jointly in addressing the threat of climate change and to ensure that global warming does not reach levels that will be irreparably harmful to our society and to our planet.

This is a task that may seem easy, but which in fact is very complicated. It took more than 20 years for our 198 parties to the Convention – the world’s governments – to agree on a common plan. This common plan is known as the Paris Agreement, which was adopted in 2015. This agreement is essentially a blueprint for international cooperation around climate change. It states the responsibilities that every government has, and it defines how they must work together to reach the specific objective of the Paris Agreement: to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, with the ambition to limit it to 1.5 degrees C.

It took more than 20 years to agree on this plan. Not because governments don’t want to do anything, but because addressing climate change requires a complete re-thinking of how we do things. It is not about banning an individual chemical or changing a single sector, but it requires us to think differently about everything: How we produce food, how we manufacture everything from clothes, to vehicles to buildings, how we travel and transport things, how we generate and consume energy, how we take care of our forests, oceans, rivers and lakes, how we build our cities and how we do business. Addressing climate change simply affects all walks of life and society.

It took more than 20 years to achieve the Paris Agreement. In that period, global greenhouse gas emissions increased by 40% pushing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to levels we haven’t seen on this planet for at least 3.6 million years. And we are feeling the impact now. With temperature records being broken every year, with melting ice caps and glaciers, with extreme storms, droughts and weather events. And we see the impact on food production, on infrastructure, on the economy and on the health and lives of people all over the world. From wild fires in California, to typhoons in Japan, flooding in Jamaica, landslides in China and starvation in Africa. It is all linked to our changing climate.

If you follow the climate change negotiations, you will be familiar with discussions on finance, on technology, capacity building, on mitigation, on adaptation, on national climate action plans and so on. However, the fundamental aspect of our work is a different one: It is all about people.

Whether you are a student, a teacher, a business owner, a mayor of a city, or even the president of a country, your decisions will have an impact on the climate footprint of yourself, of your university, of your company, city or country. It is our decisions, as individuals and as representatives of our community, organization or country that in the end decide if we will be successful in tackling the climate crisis. And to be able to take the right decisions, we need to be informed. We need to be educated. And we need to have access to information.

This is why the issue of education, training, public awareness, access to information and public participation is so fundamental to our work on climate change in the United Nations. Already in 1992, this was defined as a priority. In the Paris Agreement, it was again confirmed as a top priority for all countries and all governments to address. In UNFCCC we refer to this issue as Action for Climate Empowerment, with the nice acronym A-C-E, or just ACE.

Under the Paris Agreement, every country is required to develop their national climate action plans – also known as “Nationally Determined Contributions” – NDCs, that describes what the country will do to fight climate change, to reduce emissions and increase adaptation. These climate action plans need to be regularly updated until we reach the Paris Agreement objective.

What does it really mean? Science tells us that it means that we must cut our emissions by 45% by 2030. It means that we have to achieve a climate neutral society – a society where we are not emitting more greenhouse gases than the planet can absorb – by 2050.

Ladies and gentlemen; cutting emissions by 45% in just 10 years from now, and achieving a climate neutral society by 2050, requires that we take action now. Clearly, this is not a job for future generations. But for us. Now. Here. Today. That action will not happen if we, as individuals, and decision makers, and if everybody who have a say about the direction that society is going, are not fully aware, informed, and educated.

And what is it they need to know? They need to know that – Yes – climate change is a formidable threat to our society and planet. A threat that is both global and personal for most of us. But they also need to know that tackling climate change is not a threat. It is not something that will impact us negatively. On the contrary, climate action means that we innovate, renew and improve how we do things. Think about energy without smoke, products without waste, travel without congestion, food without artificial chemicals. In every way, a climate neutral future is a positive one. But we need to be bold to take the steps needed to go there.

This is why we in UNFCCC consider that the work of the World Environmental Education Congress is so essential. This is why Patricia Espinosa, was very happy to also provide her personal patronage to this conference. We believe that the work you do here today can, and will, help the world’s governments to step up and fully implement ACE as part of their national commitments to tackle climate change. This is also why we are very grateful to Thailand, to her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, to host and welcome this important event. This is the first time the UNFCCC attends WEEC. We pledge that it is not the last time.

Ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UNFCCC, I wish us all a productive, progressive and successful World Environmental Education Congress.

Thank you!