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UN Climate Summit hopes to lock in carbon cut pledges

World leaders from government, finance, business and civil society aim to lock in pledges to reduce emissions

The United Nations is set to host world leaders from government, finance, business and civil society at the Climate Summit in New York City on Tuesday in an attempt to lock in pledges aimed at avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

The gathering of at least 120 heads of state and government and hundreds of CEOs will be the largest such meeting to date, the U.N. said in a press release Monday.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on representatives to be bold in their commitments to reduce carbon emissions, strengthen resilience in the face of a changing climate and mobilize political will ahead of the signing in 2015 of a global climate treaty.

The hope is that actions pledged in the treaty will keep average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels. Many scientists have warned that if the world warms past that point, widespread climate disruption could result.

A U.N. panel in March warned that the effects of global warming were already "worse than we had predicted." A summit theme, according to the U.N., is that climate change is no longer a problem of the future: For some of the poorest countries in the world, it is already a daily challenge.

Rising seas due to melting ice sheets and glaciers threaten low-lying areas around the world. Meanwhile extreme weather has become more frequent and intense — resulting in droughts, flooding and increasingly acidic oceans. 

In order to prevent the worst effects of climate change and a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees C, the U.N. said, nations’ domestic efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels and advance sustainable development must be scaled up to an international framework that provides incentives for joining.

On Tuesday, world leaders are expected to announce pledges of tangible climate actions. Then representatives from the private and public sectors will meet to focus on the issue of carbon pricing, including carbon taxes.

Seventy-three national and 11 regional governments that contribute 54 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions as well as over 1,000 companies and investors have expressed support for carbon pricing, the World Bank said in a press release Sunday.

“By supporting a price on carbon, leaders from across the political and business world have come together to send a strong signal that they will build their economies for a safer, cleaner and more prosperous planet,” Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group said in the release.

“Today we see real momentum. Governments representing almost half of the world’s population and 52 percent of global GDP have thrown their weight behind a price on carbon as a necessary, if insufficient, solution to climate change and a step on the path to low carbon growth,” he continued in the statement.

The growing support is an indication that carbon taxes or emissions trading systems are necessary to drive investment in a greener economy, the release said.

At the summit, government, business and civil society coalitions will announce additional actions addressing climate finance, energy efficiency, renewable energy, disaster risk reduction, resilience, forests, transportation and agriculture, the U.N. said.

Though it remains to be seen if the political will is strong enough to address the challenges that climate change poses to the world, it is clear that many people are ready for action.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended Sunday's People's Climate March in New York and other cities around the world. It was the largest climate protest ever and served as a message to world leaders that citizens are in favor of addressing climate change and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

“The elite haven’t even decided if they’re going to do anything yet,” New York marcher Geoff Leonard, a 29-year-old law student at Georgetown University, said on Sunday. “We can’t wait for them.”

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