2014 UNA-USA Annual Meeting: Dr. Robert Orr on Climate Change

By Weijia Li, UNA-SNY Energy Project

At this year’s UNA-USA Annual Meeting, I had the privilege of listening to a talk by the UN Assistant Secretary-General Dr. Robert Orr, who is also the most senior American at the UN. He focused on and stressed the significance of climate change, for several compelling reasons.

We cannot, he says, advance the Millenium Development Goals if climate change continues at this rate. Climate change affects every piece of the UN agenda and affects everything the UN is trying to do today for everyone, everywhere in the world. It is the underlying factor for peace, security, and development.

However, the UN needs the help of the US. The rest of the world also expects US leadership on climate change. So as Americans, we need to put forth rational energy policies that accelerate the use of renewables and to catalyze a clean energy revolution. Rather than wasting money on temporary fixes, we need to combat climate change directly. This will save us trillions of dollars in the future.

Every year that we delay action on climate change, the cost goes up for mitigating its effects. Even the Middle East has installed clean energy projects. I thought it was particularly compelling when Dr. Orr said, “If the Middle East can see the future, why can’t [the US]?”

The upcoming UN Climate Summit on September 23, 2014 in New York will be the largest gathering of global leaders in history in one place. The Climate Summit is strategically scheduled to occur during this year’s annual Climate Week NYC and one year prior to the 2015 UNFCCC Climate Change Conference in Paris. It is stated that “by catalyzing action on climate change prior to the UNFCCC Conference, the Secretary-General intends to build a solid foundation on which to anchor successful negotiations and sustained progress on reducing emissions and strengthening adaptation strategies.”

My call to action for Americans is to write to your Congressman/woman and Senators to urge the US Mission to the UN to establish concrete goals at this year’s UN Climate Summit.

On a more personal note, I know that Dr. Orr’s wife Audrey Choi leads Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing and Global Sustainable Finance Group. With this in mind, I spoke with Dr. Orr after his talk and asked for his perspective on tackling climate change from the public/NGO sector vs. the private sector. He told me that the two are very different, but to be successful, we need to know both sides because both sides need to work together. This was reminiscent of a similar conversation I had with the Senior Policy Advisor on Energy to the UN Secretary-General.

What this means for all world citizens is that no matter what sector we identify ourselves in, we can make an impact to tackle climate change.

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