The climate marathon has started: it’s time to set the pace

The New York climate summit was a first step. We should stop asking what it achieved, and begin walking

India is one of many regions experiencing more intense extreme weather events (Pic: PUJA/Ujjain)

India is one of many regions experiencing more intense extreme weather events (Pic: PUJA/Ujjain)

By Mohamed Adow

People are already rushing to pass judgment on the success or not of the New York Climate Summit, but we are at risk answering the wrong question.

We first need to ask why the meeting of world leaders was convened in the first place.

I was lucky enough to have a front row seat for the proceedings as one of the 38 civil society representatives invited to be in the room by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

So far, most critical analysis has focused on the ambition level of the summit. Certainly this is an important factor but starting with just ambition will give us an incomplete and unfair assessment.

The summit was designed to be the first step in a long process that will take  leaders towards an ambitious global climate agreement, scheduled to be reached in Paris in December next year.

The New York gathering was intended to mobilise political will towards Paris and incentivise concrete actions from heads of state.

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So, the test for the Climate Summit is not just the ambition level now, but whether it has set the world on the right path.

The first indicator which will help us answer this is the number of heads of state who actually attended and announced their political commitments.

In total more than 120 world leaders as well as 54 ministers from other countries made the journey.

This is more than the number of national leaders who attended the much anticipated, and disappointing, Copenhagen conference in 2009.

These numbers alone show the significance world leaders are now attaching to the climate issue.

The heads of state were joined by hundreds of representatives from civil society, business and local authorities, who also announced a number of measures, which we need to interpret, but still helpful in shifting the world towards a low-carbon economy.

Given the increasing impacts of climate change being seen on food, water, infrastructure, ecosystems and human communities, the personal commitment of political leaders is essential and the 120 who took to the platform didn’t disappoint on setting the stage for their national actions.

Did the summit solve the climate crisis in one 12 hour meeting? Of course not. We still have a long way to go if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

But the Climate Summit started us on the much needed journey.

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The leaders now have to go back to their capitals with a renewed determination to get their countries on the right path with the words of the Marshall Islands’, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner ringing in their ears, who said in the opening ceremony on behalf of civil society “We deserve to not just survive. We deserve to thrive,”

As someone from a family of pastoralist farmers in Kenya I have seen the effects of climate change first hand and can get frustrated by the lack of progress we need to make.

For me this is personal.  But us Kenyans know a bit about long distance running and this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

If we are to win, and I believe we will do, then, we must take heart in the little steps made in New York and harvest the good announcements made and celebrate the leaders who have responded to the call by more than half a million people around the world who took to the streets on Sunday demanding action.

We’re closer to the finish line today than we were last week and for me that counts as success.

Mohamed Adow is Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Change Adviser. Follow him on twitter @mohadow

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