Slash Climate Emissions 45% by 2030; Children’s Health Would Benefit, Says UN Climate Head

The global community needs to reduce climate emissions by 45% by 2030 to avoid the most dire warming scenarios. But drastic action to confront the “climate emergency” would mean better health and more jobs, declared the UN’s top climate official, Patricia Espinosa, at Monday’s opening of the Bonn Climate Change Conference (SB50), the warm-up to September’s UN Climate Summit.

“This is the fight of our lives,” said Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), at a press briefing. She noted that the poor level of commitment so far by countries that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement “will take us to a warming of the atmosphere of 3°C ” – something that scientists have warned will lead to widespread disruptions in food production, water resources and other ecosystems – all affecting health.

“People will be getting sicker, it will lead to battles over resources like water, land of course,” remarked Espinosa. “Where are those communities displaced from coastal areas [by sea level rise] going to go?  It is important for all people open their eyes to how urgent things are, there is no time to waste.”

But while “reducing emissions may sound like a very technical concept”, it can actually generate huge benefits for health and well-being, Espinosa asserted. “What does it really mean? It means for instance, less air pollution, which leads to improved health, especially for children.” More than 90% of the world’s children breathe toxic air and some 600,000 children a year die from air pollution-related diseases, according to WHO estimates. That pollution is largely generated by the same dirty fuels and sources that spur climate change.


Referring to her home country, Mexico, Espinosa noted that due to high air pollution levels, schools last year were closed for some days, and on other days children were confined indoors. “They needed to stay inside because the air was so polluted…. So this is what reducing emissions means, having the clarity that your child can go out and play, and not having to worry about it. “It means cleaner water. It means that children in big cities doesn’t have to be restricted in the way we are seeing. It also means more new green jobs. And it means the possibility of achieving our 1.5°C degree goal,” she concluded.

The Bonn conference, 17-27 June, plays host to a wide range of events, meetings, and negotiating sessions that aim to “raise ambitions” for the September gathering by heads of state at UN Headquarters in New York City, followed by the December Conference of Parties (COP25) in Santiago, Chile.

UN Secretary General António Guterres has called on national leaders to bring concrete commitments to the UN Summit  for investments that will curb greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate climate resilience. To pave the way, Espinosa said that she hoped the Bonn meeting would advance an agreement for “solid rules for carbon markets to finally take shape.”

There are some “very good” climate finance initiatives happening around the world but “they are all over the place,” Espinosa observed.  “What is bringing them together? It is time to bring them together, and I think the [UN] Secretary General’s Climate Summit will be an enormous, important opportunity to move in that direction.” “We need more ambition on mitigation, more ambition on adaptation, more ambition on finance.”

She said the Bonn session would also focus on getting developed countries to deliver on the promise made in the 2015 Paris Agreement to mobilize US$ 100 billion annually by 2020 to fund climate mitigation and adaptation activities in developing countries. “Not all have lived up to it, so we need to remind them about this commitment that was made,” she quipped.

Other themes to be covered include: the role of local communities, indigenous communities, and youth in climate action. Referring to recent youth demonstrations and strikes over climate change, Espinosa said, “If your child is running into the room and saying there is a fire in the kitchen, everyone would run into the kitchen to do everything to put out the fire before it burns down the house. What the youth are saying now is that the house is burning. They shouldn’t be ignored in our process.

“The only option we have is to go for a low emissions future.  We have to do it very fast. We need to get to the 1.5 °C degree goal,” she said, referring to the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep warming below 2°C. “If we don’t do that immediately, we really don’t know what will be the result for humanity.”