Politics of Poverty

Not your average Earth Day

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French President François Hollande, UN Secretary Generan Ban Ki-Moon, and other leaders hold up their hands at the close of COP21, the United Nations conference on climate change in December 2015. (Photo: Francois Mori / AP)

Today countries from around the world are taking an important step on climate change – the first step of many, if we’re going to address the unfinished business from Paris.

My son came home the other day telling me that we had to plant a tree on Earth Day. My response was that would be awesome but I can’t be with him, sadly, because I was going to the UN in New “Nork” as he calls it to do something important about climate change. How important remains to be seen.

Heads of State and Ministers from more than 160 countries around the world are gathering to sign the Paris climate agreement. You can learn more here about why this ceremony is needed and how the agreement ultimately enters into force – a technical term for when the agreement takes legal effect.

While this is an important step towards ensuring that the Paris agreement gets implemented, there was real unfinished business in Paris that desperately needs immediate action. Most importantly, a global humanitarian crisis has been unfolding over the course of the past few years and has only been made worse due to the super El Niño that just officially ended. That El Niño alone has put more than 60 million people at risk of hunger and malnutrition globally. In Ethiopia alone, 10.2 million people are currently in need of international assistance. And the US can and should act.

The global community needs to do more at a local level to build resilience to disasters like these before they strike. This will be a key topic at the World Humanitarian Summit next month and is the focus of an effort by Oxfam to reform existing humanitarian aid approaches.

But it should also be a focus of where our scarce climate finance dollars are spent – and right now that money far too scarce. Only 16% of international climate flows are actually supporting the needs of vulnerable communities as they prepare for and respond to climate chaos. We can and must do better.

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s Executive Director, and a champion of women’s voices and communities around the world, will soon deliver that very message to Heads of State, CEOs, and other high-level attendees at a luncheon during the UN ceremonies. She is calling on companies to build resilience in their supply chains and on governments to step up and agree to a collective target for adaptation finance, something that was left out of the final Paris agreement. Oxfam is looking to the next climate conference in Morocco to close this loophole.

Finally, there are actions that the US and other governments can continue to take this year to move towards deeper emissions reduction cuts. One way the Obama administration can do this is by tightening the rules that address “super pollutants” like HFCs and Methane or limiting fossil fuel extraction on federal lands. The President continued to send important signals on these issues with his bilateral announcements with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau last month and we hope he continues to build on this North American cooperation with Mexico as well.

Growing up, we always used to say that Earth Day is every day. That’s how I think about Oxfam’s work on climate – we need to work every day to hold governments and companies accountable for their commitments and to inspire them to do more.

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