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OAS Conference Highlights “Decisive Opportunities” in Facing Climate Change

Friday, May 13, 2011

There is no better way of taking advantage of the “decisive opportunities” available to the countries of the Americas in facing climate change than the Cancun Agreements, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, said today during her participation as keynote speaker in a conference on climate change organized by the Organization of American States (OAS) at its headquarters in Washington, DC.

At the event, Figueres was accompanied by the OAS Secretary for External Relations, Ambassador Alfonso Quiñónez, who offered welcoming remarks; the OAS Executive Secretary for Integral Development (SEDI), Ambassador Mauricio Cortes Costa; and the Director of the OAS Department of Sustainable Development, Cletus Springer.

“Every one of the countries of the continent has a series of decisive opportunities to face climate change while promoting sustainable development, from the perspective of adaptation as well as from that of mitigation,” the United Nations representative said. “It is important for these opportunities to be fully taken advantage of. And currently there is no better way of taking advantage of them than by implementing the Cancun Agreements.” The documents signed in the Mexican city in December 2010 by the participating governments in the Sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 16) contain potentially beneficial agreements for the countries of the Americas, such as support for the creation and financing of green projects and greenhouse gas emissions mitigation programs in developing countries.

At the meeting, which included a question and answer session and was titled, “Climate Change: What the Americas Can and Must Do,” the keynote speaker, of Costa Rican origin, asserted that though the Cancun Agreements “unfortunately represent a small step for the planet,” they are nevertheless “a great step for the community of nations,” and that “thanks to these and other opportunities created by the Cancun Agreements we can begin to act speedily against global climate change and thus directly contribute to the national wellbeing” of each country.

The Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC highlighted the importance of significantly increasing the use of renewable energies, which are found in abundance throughout the American continent, for example in the wind conditions in Mexico, in Central America, in northern Colombia and Patagonia; the large areas in Latin America that experience high levels of solar radiation; and the considerable geothermic resources in various volcanic areas.

“If the opportunities for renewable energies are not taken advantage of and supported, the developing countries of the American continent will intensify their capacities for energy production based on fossil fuels as they quickly develop their infrastructure,” Secretary Figueres said, indicating that that would “seal the permanency of infrastructure with a high level of carbon emissions and the natural endowments of renewable energies would be wasted,” which would be “detrimental to the sustainable development of each of our countries and, for obvious reasons, to the entire world.”

Thus, she made a call to “not allow that opportunity to pass” and support developing countries with adequate policies and provide them incentives like those found in the Cancun Agreements.

In her presentation she also referred to the sustainable use of the forests in the region, to national initiatives centered on identifying the needs of adaptation, and congratulated the efforts of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), headquartered at the OAS. Finally, she recalled the importance of intergovernmental collaboration on this issue.

“As regards climate change, I dare suggest that in the long term the countries of the continent have more shared interests than points of discord,” she said. “And it is undeniable that the nature itself of climate change is such that no country can face it on its own. The problem can only be solved if all countries face it together.”

For his part, Ambassador Mauricio Cortes Costa recalled that climate change and its implications has been a priority to the OAS since the publication of the first assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990, and highlighted that the challenges faced by countries of the region, especially some of the smallest ones, are enormous and require additional expenses to confront them.

“The imperative of adapting to a changing climate in the most vulnerable parts of the Americas is such that OAS Member States are being forced to redirect investments needed to achieve their Millennium Development Goals towards climate risk reduction measures,” said the Ambassador representative of the hemispheric Organization. He added, “Since many of the most vulnerable OAS Members States are already contending with high debt-to-equity, they are unable to take on more debt to finance the requisite adaptation measures, and so grant funding is critical.”

Finally, he recalled that “the good news is that with the requisite political will and commitment at the national, regional, and global levels greenhouse gas emissions can be significantly reduced, and climate change can be potentially mitigated. But we must act promptly and decisively.”

To read Chrisitana Gigueres’ speach, click here.