Addressing the UN General Assembly earlier in September, Heads of State mainly focused on the Russian war on Ukraine and its effects on the security of the whole world. However, climate change made the headlines as well, especially for those countries heavily hit by floods and fires.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s Prime Minister pointed out that words are never quite matched by actions and achievements never quite meet expectations.
“It is as if the United Nations is not quite united enough,” he said.
According to him, despite the summer of 2023 being the hottest on record, States continue to talk, rather than act, on tackling the main drivers of regular migration or implementing existing transnational agreements. Recalling his address in September 2022 that the devastating effects of climate change would soon become the norm, he stressed that, 12 months later, “that new norm has unfortunately arrived”. Fires, heat waves and landslides have gripped Southern Europe, Africa and the Mediterranean. For Greece, this is nowhere more apparent than across Evros, where the largest blaze ever recorded in the European Union burnt continuously for two weeks, leaving an area larger than New York razed to ashes.
While stating that “the climate crisis is not an alibi for everything”, he underscored that the science is clear, high temperatures resulting from global warming are driving these threats. “This is the new reality of climate change,” he observed.
Detailing national efforts in response, such as pursuing green technology and investing heavily in renewable energy, he emphasised that, while the world acts decisively on long-term mitigation, the international community is “collectively guilty in not placing enough emphasis on short-term adaptation”. He therefore called for the creation of a global forum that can deliver access to new financing to drive such adaptation “before it is too late”.
Also, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, called for an acceleration of the just energy transition and emissions reduction, underlining the opportunities brought forth by digitalisation, innovation and new technologies, as well as strategic investments in renewables.
Zoran Milanović, the President of Croatia, focused mainly on biodiversity, stating that Croatia is committed to working jointly for the development and full implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework as well as to intensifying cooperation in protecting the marine environment and combatting plastic pollution. He praised the adoption of the High Seas Treaty that his country signed among the first and called on other countries to follow suit, so the Treaty could enter into force.
As a member of the European Union, Croatia has already pledged to contribute to making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. This can turn current crises into a new chance for Europe’s economies. As an example, Mr Milanović spotlighted the North Adriatic Hydrogen Valley project — based on decarbonisation and clean industry. Besides Croatia and Slovenia, it also encompasses the Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
Linking the major threats we are facing today, including climate change, migration and security, Slovakia’s president Zuzana Čaputová highlighted that the challenges the world faces today have one common denominator: they are caused by humans.
She said that, because of human activity, cities are becoming warmer, oceans more acidic and land more arid. “This summer gave us another preview of what we can expect if we sit on our hands,” she warned, regretting that the world is not doing enough. As the emissions still exceed the targets set by the Paris Agreement, the worst-case scenario is avertable. To this end, global emissions must peak before 2030. Stressing that feasible, effective and low-cost options for mitigation and adaptation are already available, she called for accelerating the green transition. Slovakia is doing its share, she stated, informing that 85 per cent of the country’s electricity is already produced with zero emissions. In the next seven years, the country will use 5 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to decarbonise its economy and increase the use of renewables.