Frederic Hauge’s NYC climate conference blog: Money can talk a climate-friendly language

Frederic_Hauge Bellona President Frederic Hauge (Photo: Dag Thorenfeldt)

NEW YORK – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon could hardly believe it was the Rockefeller Foundation that caused the biggest news splash at the start of this, the major New York climate summit, by announcing it would divest all of their holdings from fossil fuel companies.

The atmosphere is here in New York is electric. Manhattan is filled with world leaders and international environmental organizations. On Sunday over 300,000 people thronged the streets in the climate march – one of the biggest climate demonstrations on record.

Bellona is on the spot in The Big Apple as one of 38 international environmental organizations the UN selected as official international observers to the Head of State meeting, where over 120 global leaders will be in attendance.

It’s an honorable mission we take very seriously.

The globe is facing explosive population growth. From today’s 7 billion people the population will hike to 9 billion by 2050, and in lockstep with population growth, prosperity and energy consumption should increase twofold. Yet more and more areas are being wiped out and the demand for simple food and water will increase dramatically.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius hit the bull’s eye yesterday when he said Monday in New York that,” “Climate change is a huge problem. It is not a problem tomorrow, but today” Fabius singled out the repercussions of climate change for the global economy and predicted accurately that future wars would be about natural resources like food and water – those things the western world take for granted, but won’t be able to any longer.

UN Secretary General Ban decided to gather world leaders at the climate summit in New York because state leaders should make commitments to cut their own greenhouse gas emissions. New pledges to action will contribute to a new international agreement at the Paris Summit in 2015. This “bottom-up” strategy has been widely discussed in recent years, after the top-down process has to date failed miserably at creating a new climate treaty akin to Kyoto, which would encompass the entire world.

Ban’s demands from world leaders are therefore quite straightforward: “Come on the offensive and promise what you can achieve so that we can save international climate negotiations.” He is aware that the UN expects commitments and progress from among its membership. Most important, Ban said, we are expecting significant commitments and progress, no later than last week.

Monday, Bellona attended a top-level meeting of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC). It is a voluntary group of states and non-state actors who want to go further than the politicians at the summit. CCAC is working on measures to reduce greatly harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon, methane and refrigerants. This is done in collaboration with the oil and gas industry, waste companies and manufacturing companies.

The CCAC was established in 2012 and Bellona has been involved from the start. Since then, the CCAC has grown from 25 to nearly 100 partners and is an international climate success in its own right.

If you’re rich as Roosevelt, do as Rockefeller!

The unexpected show-stealer beginning the climate conference was the Rockefeller Foundation’s announcement that it would rid itself of all its assets in fossil energy. It has already bailed out of coal and tar sands. Now, following the Rockefeller example, over 180 institutions, organizations and pension funds have begun phasing out of fossil fuel investments. Bellona has repeatedly suggested that the New York meeting would be a wonderful opportunity for the enormous wealth funds concentrated in this city to do the same as the Rockefeller Foundation.

We can’t wait for the green transformation to come by itself. We must ensure that capital moves from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This requires Norway, the world’s richest economy thanks to its enormous oil fund, to ask some tough questions of itself, namely whether its ongoing subsidization of oil and gas is a good, forward thinking place to put its chips when betting its population’s funds and future.

“Change from below” was Secretary Ban’s objective at the climate summit in New York. He’s managed to get much of what he asked for, but not in the way he might have expected: While politicians continue to lose on their home court, their ineptitude has provided investors and civil society with some capital to push an agenda of climate optimism and an emboldened sense that we can overcome the challenges.

A version of this blog appeared in Norwegian on Norway’s Nettavisen.no. It was translated by Charles Digges.

Frederic Hauge

frederic@bellona.no