UNITED NATIONS -- A three-day meeting of over 2,500 delegates from more than 500 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and representing 80 countries affirmed that climate change "is potentially the most serious threat humanity and our environment have ever faced."
A declaration adopted Friday warns that global warming can possibly have a devastating impact on virtually all aspects of life in the planet, including "catastrophic effects on our earth's ecosystem, biodiversity and infrastructure."
Among other potential threats singled out were: the significant reduction of available food, water, energy and transport; massive migration of populations and the possible destruction of entire cultures and small island nations; significant damage to economic, political, cultural and social bases; and irreversible harm to the lifestyles of indigenous peoples.
The meeting, described as one of the largest single gathering of NGOs, was organized by the U.N.'s Department of Public Information, which has been hosting similar conferences over the last 59 years. This year's theme was: "Climate Change: How it Impacts Us All."
Stressing the role of NGOs in raising global awareness of climate change, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told delegates the United Nations today relies on its partnership with the NGO community "in virtually everything the world body does".
"Whether it is peace-building in sub-Saharan Africa or human rights in Latin America, disaster assistance in the Caribbean or de-mining efforts in the Middle East, the United Nations depends upon the advocacy skills, creative resources and grass-roots reach of civil society organizations in all our work," she said, paying a compliment to NGOs, described as "the world's third superpower."
The NGO representatives committed themselves, over the next 12 months, "to unify behind a common vision of collaboration -- even if we disagree on tactics -- to develop and implement plans for adaptation and mitigation, taking into account the full range of consequences."
They also pledged to "develop and implement individual and collective action plans" in their respective countries.
The meeting also called on U.N. member states to recognize "that war is damaging to the climate" and that all governments "ratify U.N. conventions on climate change."
The United Nations will be hosting a high-level meeting, mostly of heads of state and heads of government, on climate change on Sept. 24, the day prior to the annual General Assembly debate in New York. A second climate change conference is scheduled to take place in Bali in December.
Migiro said the effects of climate change are already visible. "The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. The resultant melting threatens the region's people and ecosystems, but it also imperils low-lying islands and coastal cities half a world away," she said.
On the other hand, as glaciers retreat, water supplies are being put at risk. "And for one-third of the world's population living in dry lands, especially those in my home continent Africa, changing weather patterns threaten to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity," declared Migiro, a national of Tanzania.
She pointed out that the recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have settled the basic science, and silenced any lingering doubters.
The panel's report has "unequivocally confirmed the warming of our climate system, and linked it directly to human activity. The effects of climate change are already visible."
These changes will not all prove painless. But their discomfort is outweighed -- many times over -- by the cost of not acting, she added.
"And, in fact, the IPCC report suggests that it will not cost us the moon to save the earth -- we may need perhaps as little as 0.1 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) annually for the next three decades, if we start to act now."
She singled out the 27-member The European Union (EU), which has agreed to a 20 percent emission reduction target, which will rise to 30 percent if other countries follow suit.
She called on NGOs to help push for the "quick wins" that can fast be implemented by almost all countries.
For instance, Cuba, Venezuela, the European Union, Australia and several other countries have pledged to phase out old incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact fluorescent lights.
"Let us all push for such initiatives in our countries and our communities," she added.
Richard Jordan, conference chair and representative of the International Council for Caring Communities, said cross-cutting issues of gender, education, human rights, health and migration should be articulated in any discussion of climate change.
He urged participants to pause for the three-day duration of the conference and consider the reasons for the lack of progress.
"For all too soon it would be Monday morning and time for everyone to help combat that very serious challenge to the entire 'human-earth' community," he said.
Joan Kirby, chair of the NGO/DPI executive committee said "the tide is turning and political leaders are responding here and around the world."
She commended Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for taking the initiative on climate change and giving the issue a high political profile in the international community.
Hopefully, she said, conference participants would be transformed into "conservers rather than users of the earth," and leave knowing what they could do to respond to the challenge.
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service