Helen Clark: Closing Remarks at The Abu Dhabi Ascent Conference in Support of Climate Summit 2014

May 5, 2014

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Closing Remarks at
The Abu Dhabi Ascent Conference in Support of Climate Summit 2014
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

My task is to report on what has come out of the Abu Dhabi Ascent – with a focus on deliverables for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York in September.

In the course of the past two days, we have had stimulating presentations from keynote speakers.

We’ve also had:

  • a very high level of engagement of governments in this meeting. I thank all ministers and senior representatives of governments who have come;
  • strong representation of the multilateral system, led by the UN Secretary General; and
  • strong participation from  civil society and the private sector.

Among all here, there is genuine commitment to tackling climate change

One phrase we have heard repeatedly is that change is in the air – that solutions exist, action is being taken, real commitments are being made, and that there are broad and growing partnerships for the kinds of transformative actions which can drive human and sustainable development for all.

Yesterday. after addressing the opening session the conference, the Secretary General spoke at a press conference. He said that: “The planet is sending us clearly a message that nature is now sick. We must listen. That is why I am saying to world leaders: Don’t be on the losing side of history. Change is in the air. Solutions exist. The race is on. It’s time to lead.” The Secretary General repeated these messages today.

The Abu Dhabi Ascent has been about accelerating momentum for taking the actions which will tackle climate change effectively.

Our host, His Excellency Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates said at our opening session: “The fact that this meeting is being held in the UAE is a tribute to the central role we now play in supporting practical actions to address climate change,”

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State, described the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “unsettling, yet encouraging. Unsettling, because we are running out of time, to reverse the effects of global warming. And encouraging, because permanent consequences can be averted.”

The private sector has been highly engaged here too. We heard Paul Polman’s loud and clear message that "Business needs three things from the political community: Clarity, Confidence and Courage."

And President Felipe Calderon reminded us that: “The trade-off between economic growth and action on climate change is a false dilemma”

Overall, speakers have emphasised that:

  • the costs of inaction on climate change exceed the costs of action;
  • economic growth and reducing emissions are compatible processes;
  • business is moving to play a decisive role in areas from renewables to deforestation-free supply chains; and 
  • civil society and indigenous peoples must be fully engaged in the responses.

We focused here on 10 Climate Action Areas:
Energy Efficiency; Renewable Energy; Short-Lived Climate Pollutants; Forests; Agriculture; Cities; Transportation; Resilience, Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction; Climate Finance and Economic Drivers.

Energy Efficiency
Sustainable Energy for All is leading global public-private collaboration on energy efficiency which is designed to have made tangible progress by 2020, with its initial elements to be announced at the Climate Summit in September. 

  • A new global Energy Efficiency Accelerator platform is being created to drive action and commitments at city, state, and regional levels, in active partnership with those national governments which step forward to participate.
  • The action group discussion here identified barriers to greater energy efficiency beyond money per se. One critical step is to create effective regulation at municipal, sub national and national levels to provide certainty and consistency.

Renewable Energy
We heard more about:

  • The Lighthouse initiative, which aims to accelerate deployment of renewable energy in SIDS in order to strengthen their energy security and resilience in a climate friendly way. 
  • The Africa Clean Energy Corridor, which aims to accelerate the expansion of cost-effective renewable energy source through a regional approach to energy planning and development.

Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

Reducing short-lived climate pollutants must be part of the climate equation if we are to keep the world on a less than two-degree path. Multiple initiatives brought to the Ascent aim to tackle SLCPs in innovative ways, and showed promising momentum.

Reducing emissions from deforestation represents 22 per cent of the mitigation potential by 2030, with significant additional environmental and social co-benefits. Government, business, and indigenous and civil society leaders came together here to discuss practical ways forward.

In September we expect to see higher levels of ambition expressed and pledges for concrete action. 

Deforestation can be slowed radically with strengthened commitment from tropical forest nations, supported as appropriate by financial and technical assistance from developed countries and action by the private sector, and where the rights and roles of indigenous peoples are fully respected. 

Urgent action can also be taken to restore the planet’s vast areas of degraded land to productivity, building on the 2011 Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares by 2020. 

These are distinct but linked areas for action, which are also extremely important for achieving climate smart agriculture, food and water security, and sustainable cities, as well as climate adaptation for resilient livelihoods.


The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture aims to enable farmers, fishers, and foresters to adapt to changing climates in order to provide food security for nine billion people by 2050, while reducing the harmful impact of agriculture on our climate.

The action area session here endorsed inclusion of food and agriculture in the Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, with the aim of enabling 500 million women and men farmers, fishers, livestock keepers, and forest dwellers to practise climate smart agriculture by 2030.

Deliverables are anticipated to include those from:

  • NEPAD’s African Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (engaging 25 million farmers by 2025);
  • the Climate and Clean Air Coalition initiative to reduce methane emissions from livestock and rice production (Twenty countries co-chaired by Canada and Nigeria are in the coalition)
  • the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (which has forty country members); and
  • sourcing climate-smart products by global food companies (two initiatives are ready, with others on the way).


Cities are widely recognized as critical players in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and rapidly adapting to the changes brought about by global warming. The dialogue here at the Ascent made key advances on (1) the Compact of Mayors and (2) Transformative Projects in Cities.

  • The Compact of Mayors is envisaged to be a joint effort of city networks to accelerate and build on the existing work being done by cities.
  • The Compact will include a wide range of cities which have set mitigation targets, and disclose their carbon inventories in a rigorous, transparent, and standardized way.
  • At the summit, participating organizations, including C40, ICLEI, and UCLG, will announce how many cities are already in compliance with this standard, their total emissions reduction targets, and plans to expand the compact by getting more cities to adopt both targets and rigorous reporting standards.


If current trends towards private motorisation prevail, worldwide urban transport greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2025 will be thirty per cent above their 2005 level. Great strides need to be made on energy transformation in the sector, including by scaling up investment in public transport.

  • The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) has invited its 1300 member organisations in 92 countries to double the market share of public transport by 2025.
  • The International Union of Railways, with 240 member railway companies, has stated its intention to achieve a 75% reduction in transport carbon emissions by 2050.

Resilience, Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction;

Initiatives discussed here include:

  • The Resilient Cities Acceleration Initiative:  Through the Making Cities Resilient Campaign, 1,700 cities have committed to ten steps essential to making cities resilient.
  • Climate Information from El Niño to Action: Through this initiative, farming and fishing communities and other economic sectors, and policymakers in regions affected by the coming El Niño will be enabled to access, understand, and act on seasonal climate predictions and related information.

Climate Finance Action Area

The World Bank Group, the Carbon Disclosure Project, the UN Global Compact, and other partners have agreed to work together toward the long-term goal of a carbon price applied throughout the global economy by:

  • bringing forward and strengthening the implementation of existing carbon pricing policies to better manage investment risks and opportunities.
  • enhancing co-operation to share information, expertise, and lessons learned on developing and implementing carbon pricing through various “readiness” platforms.

Success in the climate finance stream at the Summit would mean a significant group of actors in the financial system committing to act jointly to optimize the financial system’s contribution to tackling climate change and lay out a roadmap on how to deliver this by the Paris COP in late 2015.

  • Investors could articulate commitments on how to reduce the asset carbon intensity and the expectations of their investee companies in managing climate risk and opportunity, and support the design and dissemination of best practices on how shareholders assess and monitor climate-related actions by their investees.
  • Investors, corporates, and the public sector could consider the use of Green Bonds as a low risk tool to build green credentials while expanding the investment base, and support regulation to recognize and manage climate risk in investment decision-making.
  • The public sector could commit to support and develop domestic capital markets that facilitate access by cities and corporations to finance; ensure policy predictability over a reasonable time horizon, and support the timely design and substantial capitalization of the GCF.
  • Double green bond issuances from last year could reach $20 billion by the Climate Summit this year and at least $50 billion by the time of the Paris COP.


The Abu Dhabi Ascent has brought many key actors from across sectors to look at concrete deliverables for the Climate Summit. The path to the top is beginning to emerge from the mist. We can now see many steps which need to be taken individually and collectively to achieve a successful Climate Summit on 23 September.

The coalitions which came to this meeting and have been built on here now need to redouble their efforts to finesse deliverables for the Summit which will contribute to a successful COP in Lima and then in Paris next year.

We must stay focused, action-oriented, and ambitious for a new global climate agreement which aims to see our world live within the two degree threshold.

For a more comprehensive summary of the action areas discussed at the Abu Dhabi Ascent please also see: 


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