The U.N. summit next week may give U.S. President Barack Obama a final chance to make his mark on the global response to climate change. International attention will shift its focus to New York, where 125 world leaders are gathering to pave the way for a global climate change treaty, to be finalized in Paris next year.
The New York summit represents Obama’s last opportunity to implement an effective climate change strategy for the United States. White House officials have said that the U.S. is planning to offer tangible contributions and even assist struggling nations with technology, to combat food shortages and other effects of global warming. This, Obama hopes, will put pressure on other pollution-heavy nations to demonstrate their awareness of the urgent need for climate change.
The last U.N. climate change summit, held in Copenhagen in 2009, was regarded by many as a disappointing failure. By the end of the summit world leaders had done little more than “recognize” the need to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius. The conference then terminated without any major global climate change solution. This outcome left many smaller and poorer nations frustrated with the lack of progress and left heavy polluters, such as China and India, with little or no political pressure to implement change.
After this disappointing result Obama then hoped to make climate change a major governmental focus during his second term. But his attention has been occupied by the global crises that have bombarded the U.S. President since his re-election, including Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Ukraine. Now, with his term fast approaching its end and the possibility of a Republican president in the near future, the U.N. summit in New York represents Obama’s final chance if he wishes to have any impact on climate change at all.
But the need for climate change must still compete with on-going international issues, such as the Islamic State in the Middle East. Current public opinion suggests that there is little faith the summit will result in effective and ambitious strategies to combat global warming. There is also serious concern that Obama, whose popularity has begun to crumble in recent months, lacks the political swing to enforce whatever climate change target he might bring to the table.
By stepping back from issues in the Middle East and Ukraine, Obama is working hard to keep the urgent need for climate change at the top of the global drawing board. By encouraging nations to unveil their emissions-reduction targets early, the summit in New York offers a chance for world leaders to take a major step forward in the battle against global warming before the gathering in Paris next year. The results of the 2015 summit will then be set to take effect in 2020 and apply to all countries.
While public opinion polls may express their doubts about the New York summit, Obama is seizing his last chance at giving climate change the boost it needs. At least 100,000 people are expected to throw their weight behind him on Tuesday in an organized march against global warming. The march, which has been endorsed by more than 1,100 separate organizations, is predicted to be the largest climate change demonstration ever in U.S. history.
By Mathew Channer