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The United Nations system and climate change


By Lennart Båge, Chair, High-level Committee on Programmes of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, and President, International Fund for Agricultural Development

Climate change is a challenge that threatens human well-being and sustainable development worldwide, with particularly severe risks for the most poor and vulnerable countries and groups of society.  This is now virtually uncontested, as uncontested as the need for urgent and concerted action to confront this challenge.  The need to act has indeed acquired a new dimension and urgency following the publication of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  While some differences of opinion remain as to how to go about it, there is an ongoing process, under the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol, that we all support and which is expected to lead to a major agreement by the end of 2009.

In the meantime, the United Nations system agencies, funds and programmes are providing support to Member States by implementing mandates already agreed by respective governing bodies and international agreements, and by responding to requirements emanating from the UNFCCC process.  Over this last year, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, has highlighted climate change as a major priority of the coming years.  In his capacity as Chairman of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), the Secretary-General has placed climate change at the top of the inter-agency agenda.  Under the guidance of CEB, the UN system has embarked on an ambitious effort to develop and present a coordinated contribution to the UNFCCC process, starting with the Conference of Parties meeting in Bali last December.  At the same time, the Secretary-General has undertaken the initiative of “greening the UN,” making UN premises and operations more climate friendly and thus have the United Nations lead by example.

The Secretary-General has also brought climate change to the attention of world leaders, through the High-level Event that he hosted in New York on 24 September 2007 and other political initiatives that he has taken since then.  His intervention in Bali was crucial for reaching agreement on the Bali Action Plan.  It was there, in Bali, in December 2007, that the Secretary-General presented the first overview of our coordination efforts of the UN system, to a very positive reception by the Parties to the UNFCCC.

The presentation by the Secretary-General was based on work undertaken by the CEB’s High-level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) and its Working Group on Climate Change chaired by the HLCP Vice Chair Mr. Mats Karlsson.  Since Bali, we have continued our work, taking into account feedback provided by Member States on various occasions, including the thematic debate in the UN General Assembly on 11-13 February 2008. At the General Assembly meeting, a consolidated report was presented by the Secretary-General (A/62/644), supplemented by an inventory of UN system activities on climate change.

In the first quarter of this year HLCP undertook an intensive process of discussion and further elaboration of the inputs prepared for the Bali COP.  This work has taken UN system coordination on climate change to another level, focusing on concrete results and supporting the ongoing negotiation process.  HLCP recommendations coming out of these inter-agency discussions were endorsed by CEB at its Spring 2008 session in Bern, Switzerland.

In response to the priorities identified under the UNFCCC negotiation process, and in pursuance of the broader mandates and capacities in the UN system, the CEB identified five areas of focus for UN system coordination, namely:

  • Finance (Mitigation, Adaptation)
  • Adaptation
  • Technology Transfer
  • Capacity Building
  • Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD)

The Secretary-General has invited agencies with major activities in each area to play the role of conveners, facilitating system-wide work in their respective area.  Moreover, in view of the critical importance of ongoing efforts in cross-cutting areas of UN activity, the Secretary-General has also proposed convenor for:

  • Science, Assessment, Monitoring and Early Warning
  • Supporting Global, Regional and National Action
  • Public Awareness
  • Climate Neutral UN

UN organizations also continue to provide support to governments in several sectors related to climate change, with full respect to national ownership.  These sectors include: agriculture & fisheries, disaster risk reduction, education, energy, forestry, health, industry, ICT, oceans, population & human settlements, transport, and water.  Working in collaboration with HLCP, the UN Development Group (UNDG), now also a pillar of the CEB, is expected to focus on strengthening country-level implementation of UN system activities on climate change.

An online inventory of UN system activities is now under preparation in order to support information exchange, transparency, engagement and results tracking. The inventory will be publicly available  as part of the UN system’s response to climate change and will enable all those interested to access support from the United Nations system in a more effective way.

The Secretary-General, by the series of initiatives he has undertaken, in particular last September’s High-level Event in New York (“The Future in our Hands: Addressing the Leadership Challenge of Climate Change,” 24 September 2007), has generated a sense of urgency and strong commitment for the UN system to deliver on climate change.  The system will respond both in terms of coordinated operational support and in terms of contributing to achieving an effective outcome at the upcoming UNFCCC Conferences of Parties in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008, and in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009.


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