Barcelona — World leaders have become distracted from the problem of global warming since agreeing the Paris climate accord in 2015, and must show renewed political commitment to the issue, said former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging the United States to reverse a decision to leave the pact.
Ban, who was recently elected as president and chair of the Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute, said he had been "really inspired and grateful" to leaders who came together in Paris to show a "united, global vision" on tackling climate change.
"After that, unfortunately now the European Union is divided, the United States is stepping back from this, there are many political issues, refugee issues - so the leaders do not have much time to focus on (climate change)," Ban said in a telephone interview from his native South Korea.
But if global warming and its effects are not handled "properly and urgently" at the top level, countries will face worsening problems caused by natural and environmental disasters, he warned.
"So they should really have much, much closer eyes on these environmental consequences that are happening," he added.
The Paris Agreement aims to keep global temperature rise "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times by slashing heat-trapping emissions.
The deal took effect faster than expected, and governments are now working out the rules for implementing it, which are meant to be finalised at U.N. climate talks in December.
Last year, however, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would withdraw the United States from the agreement, saying it would damage the American economy - unless the pact could be redrawn on more favourable terms for his country.
The former U.N. chief said he was encouraged by media reports that Trump might consider coming back to the Paris accord, which it cannot exit before November 2020.
"That is what we ask," said Ban, who made climate change a top priority while leading the United Nations from 2007 to 2016.
Even the United States, a wealthy country with "the best infrastructure", is struggling to deal with increasingly wild weather linked to climate change, such as the flooding Hurricane Irma inflicted on Florida last year, he noted.
"No country in this world can cope with these natural disasters," he said. "I hope by this time President Trump should clearly understand the magnitude of these consequences by the climate phenomenon - not only for the United States but for all humanity."
$100 BILLION A YEAR
Ban said developing countries needed stepped-up support to meet their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.
It is "crucially important" for wealthy nations to meet a promise to raise $100 billion per year in funding for that purpose from 2020, he noted.
The Green Climate Fund, set up the United Nations, has had a slow start but is now making progress in allocating more money for projects. However, it faces a $2-billion shortfall in its $10-billion pot because under Trump, Washington is refusing to deliver fully on a pledge made before he took office.
"The important thing is that rather than asking individual countries for the contributions, there should be some agreement on a formula for how we can mobilise $100 billion," Ban said.
Efforts to put such a plan in place had previously failed over disagreements about what should be included, he added.
"I don't think all this should be government money," he said, emphasising the need to work closely with the business community and development finance institutions, which together handle trillions of dollars.
Under his leadership, Ban said the Global Green Growth Institute, an intergovernmental organisation that has programmes in 26 developing nations and emerging economies, would aim to help the poorest countries and small island states make their climate action plans a reality and meet U.N. development goals.
Ban said he would also urge leaders to help vulnerable countries move onto a greener, more resilient development path.
"It is not that we don't have money - it is political will, political commitment which really counts, so it is important that the United States should return to the climate change agreement and work for sustainability and humanity," he said.
- Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Alex Whiting