By Chris Bathembu –allAfrica.com
It was billed as the biggest climate march in history with figures being put at more than 100 000 people. The marchers in New York on Sunday brought traffic to a virtual standstill and some shops had to be shut for hours as throngs of placard-carrying people walked to the United Nations Headquarters in downtown Manhattan.
They had one demand and that was something needs be to done to curb climate change. People of all races, young and old, shouted in one voice: “We demand action”.
Similar marches are planned in other major cities around the world for the duration of the UN General Assembly underway in New York.
On Monday, South Africa’s Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa seemed to have joined that call urging developed nations to lead by example in curbing global warming and climate change.
Minister Molewa had just come out of a climate meeting called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when she spoke to SAnews on the need for urgent steps to be taken to reduce carbon emissions which according to scientists are to blame for the increasing extreme weather patterns.
Ban invited world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to a Climate Summit on Monday held on the sidelines of the General Assembly. President Jacob Zuma was also among the leaders, who attended that summit, and observers say it was a serious demonstration of the UN’s increasing impatience with its members not committing enough to reduce greenhouse gases.
Ahead of the meeting, the UN said Ban had asked the member-states to come up with bold announcements and actions that would reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilise political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015.
The seriousness of the meeting was evident in Minister Molewa’s expression and stance. The world has never seen such a massive demonstration as seen in New York on Sunday even when climate marches have been a feature in every major UN meeting.
Her first words were that the time had come for all countries particularly those that are industrialised to walk the talk and lead the way in reversing the imminent devastating impacts of climate change. The issue of climate change has increasingly been on the top of the agenda of the United Nations since the watershed climate meeting held in Denmark, in 2009, where global leaders agreed on measurable targets to reduce greenhouse gases. The increasing extreme weather patterns such as droughts and heavy rains had been linked to global warming with environmentalist warning that things may get worse if nothing is done to reduce carbon emissions.
Environmental protection is also central to the UN eight Millennium Development Goals which are being reviewed at the 69th General Assembly. Monday’s climate meeting was seen as a test to see the willingness of global leaders to sign up to a comprehensive new global climate agreement at the next round of climate talks in Paris next year.
South Africa, which hosted COP 17 in 2011, has begun taking bold steps to lower its carbon emissions with measures including releasing the Climate Change Response Strategy and vigorous introduction of renewable sources of energy.
“There’s got to be some kind of mobilisation for the whole world at the highest level possible for action to be taken. We are saying the developed countries must take a lead to increase their ambition levels so they are the ones who assist the whole world to take us where we need to be.”
She said South Africa, which is the biggest emitter of toxic gases in Africa, was doing its bit to address climate change with responses ranging from mitigation, adaptation as well as legislation that promotes green economy.
“We have really done well as a country. We have done an easement report of does South Africa stand with its greenhouse gases… we have also moved to quite a few things including what we call the desired emissions reduction outcomes.
“That strategy helps us to begin to allocate per sector the carbon reduction capacity and what every sector should do to reduce carbon emissions,” she said, citing transport and the energy departments as examples of sectors that have started to reduce emissions. South Africa is also a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an environmental treaty negotiated by the UN in 1992.
Minister Molewa said government has calculated a lot of sectors where they can reduce reductions up to about 42 percent.
EU leaders have endorsed the objective of reducing Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% by 2050 amid the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius.
Minister Molewa said it will take bold actions to meet these targets.
“If we have made those commitments and set those targets for ourselves as determined by science then we need to know what must happen otherwise we won’t be able to say this is an agreement that we must reach and this is the level of ambition that we have put on the table and our actions to speak to that,” she said.
Leaders needed to leave New York this week knowing that they have a responsibility to stop global warming and control climate change.
“All of us must go home and act within our own capabilities. We have a programme and every year we need to work towards a goal that will take us where we need to be.”