Patricia Espinosa Calls for Progress at Bonn Climate Talks

14 06 2022 | 08:43

Speech by UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa at the opening of the Bonn Climate Change Conference - June 2022:

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. And I would like to start by recognizing you initiating this very exciting session of the Subsidiary Bodies of UNFCCC for the first time in-person here in Bonn after three years.

So let me welcome all of you. It is really moving to see how many of you have come here. Many of you have made just an incredible journey to be here today and to work hard in order to bring forward the agenda on climate change.

I would also like to acknowledge the company of the Deputy Executive Secretary here on the podium, of my colleagues from the secretariat that are supporting the SBSTA and of course your presence, the presence of all of you.

This is my final opportunity to speak to you in this setting and I want to begin by saying that it has been my great honour to serve this process and to work for as well as with all of you.

I ask for your indulgence for a few brief reflections prior to discussing our upcoming agenda as I believe they may provide some perspective on your work going forward.

Dear colleagues,

When I accepted the role of Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC six years ago, and I remember very well I came into this very room with Christiana Figueres my predecessor and friend and she offered me the opportunity to say a few words to you. I remember exactly how it happened. I was sitting next to Daniele Violetti like today, he’s sitting here in the front line. I remember very well. So when I accepted that role, I knew that it would be the culmination of my career as a diplomat, ambassador and minister.

It was an incredible honour to steer the organization coordinating international efforts addressing humanity’s greatest challenge and to work with all of you to help strengthen multilateralism — a topic about which I have long felt deeply passionate.

While I was new to the position, I was no stranger to the process. I had already served as COP President, understood the urgency of this challenge and had supported stronger action in my diplomatic responsibilities.

I knew that as the afterglow of the Paris Agreement’s adoption waned and the necessity for implementation set in, difficult questions would need to be answered — and quickly.

Central to this was the uncertainty around the work of the Secretariat. What was to be its role in a post-Paris environment? A treaty body? Or one coordinating Party efforts to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement?  

To me, it was clear: we had a supporting role, a coordinating role, but also a leadership role in the attainment of decisive and equitable collective action.

I knew that UN Climate Change was best placed to facilitate this work, the only one with the mandate to do so, and I began to focus our efforts in this direction.

The work had just begun when the first of a wave of what would be several unprecedented challenges began to hit our process — challenges that would threaten the very existence of this organization.

In June of 2017, a critical actor in our process, the United States, announced it would withdraw from the Paris Agreement. We all remember how deeply disappointing this was, and the speculation that followed. Would other Parties follow? Would the process fall apart?

The process held firm. We immediately began discussing with other Parties who quickly and publicly reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement and, in time, that critical actor returned. But these were very difficult waters to navigate early on.

There was also good news that year. The process broke new ground when Fiji -- a small island nation -- presided over COP23, through an innovative arrangement with our host country, Germany.

Katowice also delivered significant progress towards making the Paris Agreement fully operational.

But shortly afterwards, I found out some very distressing personal news:  I had been diagnosed with cancer.

Almost every one of us in this room knows someone who has cancer or who has gone through it themselves. Maybe you’re dealing with it right now. If so, you know how shocking it is to first get the news.

And everyone deals with it in their own way. My choice was to continue working — as much as I was able to — during this time and I want to thank you so much for your support during that extremely difficult period.

Fortunately, I’m in remission now.

The next big wave came when we found out that COP25 could no longer take place in Chile. I knew that we needed to maintain the original dates for the COP or we would lose momentum and time that we simply could not afford.

I will always be grateful to Spain for immediately stepping up to host the COP.

We only had a few weeks to meet this incredible logistical challenge and yet it had to be done. With your help and above all with the dedication and ingenuity of my incredible staff at UN Climate Change, we managed it.

We all know the next big challenge. Just after COP 25, the pandemic struck and it hit our process as it hit the entire world.

The early days were days of uncertainty, of not knowing what to expect and how to react.

What I did know was that climate change, already urgent, was not stopping for a pandemic. I knew we had to adapt, to innovate, to make difficult decisions, to find solutions, to deal with new technology and to just keep the process moving forward.

I know I asked a lot of this organization, of all the staff in this organization, and also of all of you but I am proud of what we achieved. Because again, the process held.

By working together, and with your leadership and participation, we continued our climate discussions, we held online events, dialogues, summits and we kept the process moving forward.

I  believe this commitment and collaboration played a big part towards ultimately achieving success at COP26 and the resulting Glasgow Climate Pact -- such a significant accomplishment when you think of everything that stood in our way leading to it.

Dear colleagues, dear friends,

We will always face challenges —in our personal and work lives. But also in those of our nations and of the international community. They will always seem almost impossible to overcome. And we won’t get through all of them.

But looking back at the process, at our process, one lesson becomes very clear: that if we all do what we can and we work together, we can get through any challenge. The key is to support each other.

The proof is in the results.

The international climate change regime enjoys near-universal membership.

We completed the Paris Agreement Work Program, which provides a clear and consensual set of tasks to turn pledges into actions.

We pulled together and staged COP25 in Madrid despite a significant deadline pressing down on us.

We boosted our role with stakeholders and the global climate action space. I’m pleased to say it has grown significantly — a big accomplishment because we know that governments alone cannot solve the climate crisis.

After Glasgow, the guidelines for full implementation are now in place and nations have everything they need to implement and boost climate action. And I will talk more about that shortly.

This is important work that we achieved together…through collaboration.

Looking forward, I encourage you to continue focusing on the benefits of working together, not just the challenges. And I thank you for what we have achieved together.

I would like to also thank all the non-governmental observers as well as all non-Party stakeholders. As I said in my closing remarks at COP26, every one of you has a voice. You are more than a source of inspiration, you are a source of solutions. And I urge Parties to do their utmost to ensure you are all truly full participants in the process moving forward.

And thank you to all Secretariat staff who have dedicated their careers to addressing climate change. I want you to know how much I appreciate your efforts, your dedication and your support for this process.

Let me also make a personal remark and thank my family who is here with me, some of them, not everyone because I have a very big family. But I want to thank my family. Thank you, everyday.

Climate change will remain close to my heart. And I will continue to lend my expertise and my passion to climate change issues. Thank you again.

Let me briefly turn to these Subsidiary Body meetings as we begin laying the groundwork for success at COP27.

We are familiar with the main issues that must be addressed here to help achieve that success: mitigation, adaptation & loss and damage, and finance and means of implementation.

We need more than familiarity — we urgently require political-level interventions and decisions in each of these areas in order to achieve a balanced package.

Doing so will send a clear message to the world that we are headed in the right direction.

Because the world is going to have one question in Sharm El-Sheikh: what progress have you made since Glasgow?

They know that while nations made a commitment to meeting the 1.5C goal, that commitment entailed accelerated action and increased climate ambition. 

It is not acceptable to say that we are in challenging times, which we are. But they know that climate change is not an agenda we can afford to push back on our global schedule.

We need decisions and actions now and it is incumbent on all nations to make progress here in Bonn in the coming two weeks.

And we must understand that climate change is moving exponentially -- we can no longer afford to move incrementally. We can no longer afford to make just incremental progress. We must move these negotiations along more quickly. The world expects it.

A few comments on the main issues. First, mitigation. We all know that we are far from where the science tells us we need to be to achieve the 1.5°C goal.  And that means that very difficult decisions must be taken. And they must be reflected in ever more ambitious Nationally-Determined Contributions and Long-Term Plans. In Glasgow, Parties recognized that the five-year cycle is not enough to put us on the trajectory that we must be on to achieve that 1.5C degree goal. MISSED

On adaptation. The voices from the most vulnerable countries show why it is imperative that actions commensurate with the magnitude of the problem are duly identified and supported. That is what defining the global goal for adaptation truly means. And the controversial issue of loss and damage must be addressed in a way that is constructive and forward-looking.

Third, the crucial issue of finance and means of implementation in general. There is still hope that the
$100-billion-dollar pledge will be met. And beyond the calls for a substantial increase in climate finance and in particular adaptation finance, time and time again, the lack of finance comes up as the main obstacle to collective climate action, also in capacity building, technology transfer or the consolidation of the enhanced transparency framework.

Dear colleagues, dear friends,

We need your political plans, decisions and actions now. And we need to see progress here in Bonn if we are to ultimately succeed in November.

I fully recognize that none of these issues is easy, especially now and especially in the context of our current geopolitical situation. We all know that the world of COP27 will look nothing like it did for COP26.

It is a world beset with conflicts, energy, food and economic crises…and the global pandemic is still with us.

And yet I appeal to all of you — especially in these difficult and challenging times — not to lose hope, not to lose focus, but to use our united efforts against climate change as the ultimate act of unity between nations.

We must never give in to despair. We must continue to move forward.

Look at what we have accomplished in the last six years. Look at what we’ve accomplished in the last 30. While we are still very much behind the climate curve…

… the world is no doubt in a better position because of the UNFCCC, because of Kyoto, because of Paris. Because of collaboration. Because of multilateralism. Because of all of you.

But we can do better. And we must.  

Let us continue to support multilateralism, continue to support UN Climate Change, and continue to work together to address climate change and continue to believe in this process.

My time serving the process from the Secretariat is at an end. But this process will go on. And I will do all I can to contribute, as a private citizen, to improving our understanding, galvanizing action and, ultimately, improve our chances of success on climate.

I encourage you to make the most out of these discussions in order to achieve success here in Bonn, in Egypt and beyond.

And once again, thank you for your partnership, your support and, most of all, your dedication to this great human endeavour that means everything.

Thank you.