by Peter Lundberg, UN Resident Coordinator in Montenegro
There is no longer any doubt that we have for decades been disturbing the ecological equilibrium of our planet and the time has now come to face these grim realities. Without any doubt, climate change is the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced. The science warns us that the climate crisis is now, and it is a “code red” for humanity.
The just closed Climate Conference in Glasgow COP 26 coincided with an important milestone on Montenegro’s development path – its 30th anniversary of declaring itself as an ecologic state. Nothing speaks more about the strength of such commitment than Montenegro’s determination to embed it into the heart of its Constitution.
When Montenegro chose to continue its development on a green path, 30 years ago, not many people had expected that, this green path would become the only way forward for all.
Only 3 decades later, the alarm bells of climate urgency are deafening, with evidence impossible to ignore: temperatures are reaching new highs; biodiversity is reaching new lows; oceans are warming, acidifying, and choking with plastic waste. Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are strangling our planet and putting billions of people at immediate and long-term risk, with many of the changes becoming irreversible. Each year we see extreme weather and climate disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity. And this summer, here in Montenegro was no exception with record number of forest fires.
The way out?
Five years ago, the Paris Agreement paved for humankind a clear way out of this crisis, pointing that limiting the temperature rise under the 1.5°C in this century is key. Unfortunately, scientists also warn that we are already close to reaching that threshold, which would mean reaching point of no return.
In order to prevent this from happening, the world needs to join forces around three critical aspects:
First, Mitigation – keep the 1.5°C goal within reach, by securing greater ambition from national governments and more net-zero commitments.
Secondly, Adaptation – to increase investment into adaptation from current 21% to at least 50% of the overall international climate finance.
Thirdly, the Financing – to reach an agreement on a delivery plan for the $100 billion per year, to improve access to financing and to progress on carbon markets.
The responsibility for this ambitious agenda lays with all of us, but primely with the national governments. It is the national leaders who bear responsibility for taking urgent steps to reduce emissions, mobilize funding, and boost resilience, and for delivering on the Paris Agreement.
National governments can and should greatly rely on United Nations to be a solid partner, convener, and an honest broker, who facilitates multilateral dialogue for national leaders to deliver a successful climate response. This is exactly what the UN is already doing. We have convened world leaders, top experts and scientist, activists as well as corporate leaders to the Climate Conference in Glasgow, for all of them to join forces for climate action.
It’s about making choices
Montenegro’s commitment to climate action is unequivocal. It’s evident in its recent commitment to cut Green House Gas emissions by 35% by 2030, with evidence and data collection supported by UNDP. However, we believe, there is potential to significantly reduce emissions even further, in the sectors of energy, transportation, and industry in Montenegro.
Montenegro, like many low Green House Emitting countries, have low contribution to the rising global temperatures. Despite that, it is, unfortunately, bound to face the consequences of climate change through its undesirable domino effect on human well-being, health, environment and economy. That is why we must turn our attention equally to adaptation and build a resilient future.
UN’s extended arm to Montenegro
Most of the action in climate response is to take place in the economic sectors and the experience tells us that climate-smart investments outweigh the upfront costs. Montenegro’s National Climate Adaptation Plan, supported by UNDP, with Global Climate Fund financing, is an opportunity to set the baseline for making smart adaptation investments.
Another huge potential lies with young people. We know that young people in Montenegro have strong ambitions to do their part and such ambitions must be met by opportunities. Three out of four respondents are ready to change their living habits, including walk every day, reduce waste, recycle and rationalize further use of water and electricity. It is high time to build on these commitments and positive engagement by the youth.
The United Nations in Montenegro also supports small and medium size enterprises, through UNOPS in cooperation with local authorities, this work ensures that neither side stay ignorant of environmental protection, helping them to understand that greening is not just about solar panels.
But sustainable solutions in combatting climate change is also about investing in human health. As we have painfully learned from COVID crisis, we need to adapt to orient towards long-term, strategic investments in our futures. WHO tells us that strategic investments in integrated public health and primary health-care systems, as well as mature digital systems, are necessary to be able to deliver on the promise of safe, effective and equitable health services for a post-COVID-19 era.
Recent analysis of climate risk from a child’s perspective shows that nearly every child in the world is at risk from at least one of climate and environmental hazards like flooding, cyclones, vector-borne diseases, lead pollution, heat waves and water scarcity. Air pollution is the biggest threat as one billion children are estimated to be highly exposed to exceedingly dangerous levels of air pollution. In the coming period, UNICEF will support Montenegro’s children and adolescents’ involvement on air pollution and other climate change issues in the country.
But while we focus on the potential work that must be done within Montenegro, we must also be aware of what happens around ourselves. UNHCR warns us that the effects of climate change are increasing hardship on people who are already among the world’s most vulnerable, including refugees. Drought and extreme weather will certainly drive-up competition for dwindling resources on global scale and have tremendous impact on forced displacement, not only on global scale, but will certainly have strong implications for our region and for Montenegro as well.
There’s no small contribution
By now, all countries should have clearly realized that the old, carbon-burning model of development is a death sentence for their economies and our planet. We need decarbonization now, across every sector in every country. We need to shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and tax pollution much more. We need to put a real price on carbon, and channel that back towards resilient infrastructures and sustainable jobs.
The United Nations was founded 76 years ago to build consensus for action against the greatest threats facing humanity. But we have never faced a crisis like this one – a truly existential crisis which, if not addressed properly, threatens the future of mankind. Like never before, the world needs solidarity and truly joint action to counter deafening alarm bells of climate urgency. And it needs it now.
And why is contribution of a small country like Montenegro so important for the climate response? The answer is simple, because, more than ever, the world needs positive examples of true transformation which can make a real difference. As Montenegro is now planning for its rapid economic recovery and create new opportunities for its citizens, the country has exceptional potentials for building a greener future, with greener jobs and a greener economy, and I am convinced that Montenegro can and will become a role model to the rest of the world on its green path moving forward – it just need to grab this historical opportunity, now.
Author is the UN Resident Coordinator in Montenegro