Commentary: We can’t afford any more words on climate

For the second day in a row, the G20 group of major economies met up in Argentina this weekend to try to resolve the issue of climate change. But I’m disappointed we didn’t see action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, leading to more devastating consequences.

I’m particularly disappointed because this didn’t have to be the case. On the contrary, this summit was the right time for the group to make an announcement recognizing the risks of climate change, coming to a common vision for long-term international action, and sticking to a path to real curbs on emissions that we can all work together to deliver. Instead, we got nothing. And the consequence is that the planet is more likely to heat up, our sea levels will continue to rise, and extreme weather events, from hurricanes to wildfires, will threaten lives and livelihoods around the world.

I come from a developing country that has been hit hard by climate change—especially in the form of extreme weather events like the recent deluge of floodwater in Mexico. I’ve also traveled to the U.S. West, where some communities were hit hard by fires, creating deaths and destruction similar to what I’ve seen in other developing countries.

Our efforts to cut pollution shouldn’t be static or incremental. Global warming isn’t something to wait for—it’s already here. We need more than a set of phrases: the time for words has passed. We need commitments and actions, and we need them right now.

We cannot simply just pursue a level of ambition higher than that of developed countries, and leave it to others to determine their level of ambition. Quite to the contrary: When we step up, we have the opportunity to spur enormous momentum among developing countries that will help lead to more effective emissions cuts in other nations. We cannot ignore those opportunities. As the U.S. government recognized in a report last year, increased ambition isn’t just good for those countries with the best opportunity to reduce emissions—it’s good for the world economy, too.

Instead, a number of heads of state stepped up on Saturday to promise to take on climate change, but they just did it a bit slower than we had hoped. It’s time for countries with the ability to set a clear course to live up to their promises to do so. Now is the time for leadership.

The clock is ticking for developed countries to do more, and the same needs to be true for emerging economies. The G20 needs to take bold action, and do it now.

Bale is the chief of the United Nations Development Programme in New York.

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