Czech Change : CR Becomes A Climate Leader

Politics can be more unpredictable that the weather, as Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek clearly demonstrated at the recent UN climate change summit in New York.  In contrast to the country’s relative invisibility at such previous high level international gatherings, the Czech Republic attracted positive attention and significant praise for its unequivocal commitment to combatting global warming.

In a bold move, the government joined just six other nations in being the first to pledge financial support for the newly formed Green Climate Fund, established by the UN as a mechanism to transfer money from the developed to the developing world, in order to assist poorer countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change.

Following the 2013 contribution of EUR 4.3 million to developing countries such as Vietnam, Mongolia, Ethiopia, Cambodia Minister Zaorálek announced to an audience in excess of 100 world leaders that the Czech Republic is ready to contribute USD 5.5 million to the Green Climate Fund over the next two years.  He also unveiled the government’s plan to join the German Climate Finance Readiness Programme and provide additional USD 2 million to provide further help to fight climate change.

In spite of the Czech Republic’s past financial support to developing countries of more than EUR 12 million, becoming one of the first financial supporters of the Green Climate Fund arguably sends the nation’s strongest ever message of its commitment to playing an important international role in tackling mankind’s biggest challenge.

Providing such aid to poorer countries is far more than just altruistic.  After years of difficult intergovernmental wrangling, it is hoped that there will be a breakthrough at next year’s UN climate summit in Paris, when a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol will finally be approved.  But this urgent need for a new global consensus on reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) can’t be achieved without the support of the developing world.

A major obstacle in reaching such agreement is concern that less-developed economies will be disadvantaged.  It is argued that, as the main emitters of GHGs, it is the richer countries that should be held to account for causing global warming, and that it would be unjust to ask poorer nations to have to slow down their own development.  The Green Climate Fund’s mission to provide compensation to those countries to fund ways to both mitigate and adapt to climate change is therefore critical to a deal being reached in Paris.

Last year’s floods in Central Europe wreaked havoc in parts of the Czech Republic, providing yet another stark reminder of the cost of climate chaos.  With scientists now in general agreement that such extreme events are the consequence of such global warming, it is clearly in the Czech Republic’s direct interest to contribute to international efforts to find ways to urgently reduce damaging GHGs.

Insurers report that the 2013 floods, which so nearly inundated the centre of Prague, caused the most expensive climate-related damage on record.  The Czech Republic has significantly surpassed our Kyoto Protocol commitment in reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by more than 33 percent since 1990.  But there’s an urgent need for an international agreement to further curb such emissions, if future disasters are to be avoided.

I’ve been attending UN climate summits since the Kyoto meeting in 1997.  Such discussions can be quite ugly, often with our long-term planetary needs succumbing to short-term political agendas.  There have already been all-too-many lacklustre conferences at which world leaders have failed to reach agreement.  Climate change experts are in no doubt that we cannot afford to allow the Paris talks to fail.

It seems that the recent New York summit, at which the Czech Republic shone, awoke our politicians from a kind of climate coma which seemed to have set in following the disastrous 2009 talks in Copenhagen which ended in deadlock.  And the battle is now truly on to reach an international agreement to limit global warming to below 2C, a level deemed safe by scientists.

Nearly half a million protestors took to the streets of Manhattan as world leaders gathered at the UN to push for an agreement, showing that ordinary people really care.  The People’s Climate March was even joined by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon who expressed his solidarity with public concern.

“Action on climate change is urgent. The more we delay, the more we will pay in lives and in money”, said Mr. Ban.

The New York summit was undoubtedly encouraging.  A new commitment of conserving the world’s rapidly diminishing CO2-absorbing forests was one of a number of positive initiatives.  But, most encouragingly, it a new sense of urgency which emanated from the event that will drive other high-level meetings scheduled between now and the all-important Paris summit in November 2015.

Climate change is already beginning to transform life on earth.  Around the globe, seasons are shifting, temperatures are climbing and sea levels are rising.  Meanwhile, our planet must still supply us with air, water, food and safe places to live.  If we don’t act now, climate change will rapidly alter the lands and waters we all depend upon for survival, leaving our children and grandchildren with a very different world.

It’s good to know that the Czech Republic is committed to making a serious contribution in finding solutions and in actively participating in international discussions.  That’s good news for the future prosperity and security of this nation, and for the world.

Slavomír Dušek