Opening remarks by Gary Lewis at IRAN-EU High-Level Conference on Climate Change

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Your Excellency Madam Vice-President,

Commissioner Canete,

Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I have had the privilege of leading a team of 18 UN agencies here – in Iran – for four years now.

I am honoured to have been invited to moderate the thematic sessions this morning.

I join my colleague Dr. Majid Shafiepour in welcoming you all to this high-level political event.

More than anything, our meeting today intends to reaffirm our collective commitment to protect the state of the world’s climate. And, specifically, the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Today we will speak extensively about the Paris Agreement – a compact which, some – myself included – consider to be the “world’s greatest-ever deal”.

Climate change is now affecting every country – on every continent.

It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives, costing people – communities – and countries – dearly.

Ladies and gentlemen, the future is happening now.

The World Meterological Organization produced a shocking report 2 years ago. Temperature increases of almost 1 degree celsius. Droughts. Extreme rainfall. Heatwaves. Cyclones. CO2 levels of beyond the symbolic number of 400 ppm.

The evidence is in. Now the politics has to catch up.

Here in Iran, the major impact which we see is a hotter – drier – climate.

And just like the world over, the poorest and most vulnerable people will pay the highest price.

Affordable, scalable solutions do exist. They can now enable countries to leapfrog to cleaner, more resilient economies. The pace of change is quickening as more people – and more countries – turn to renewable energy and a range of other measures that will reduce our emissions and increase our adaptation efforts.

But are we moving fast enough?

To address climate change, all countries adopted the Paris Agreement at the COP21 in Paris on 12 December 2015. The Agreement entered into force less than a year later – astonishingly quickly. Irna was among the first signatories.

The world re-endorsed Paris in Marrakech last November.

Under Paris, all countries agreed to work to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and given the grave risks, they also agreed to strive for a cap at an even lower figure – 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We now need to implement Paris. This is also essential for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Together, both agreements provide a roadmap for climate actions that will reduce emissions and build climate resilience.

The Paris Agreement and accompanying COP decision make many commitments. One is to:

“Reaffirm the binding obligations of developed countries under the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change to support the efforts of developing countries, while for the first time encouraging voluntary contributions by developing countries too.”

This is the background to our meeting today.

Europe has risen to this challenge and is demonstrating real leadership and a strong willingness to partner with Iran.

We welcome Commissioner Canete and our other distinguished European visitors to our forum today. We also welcome our distinguished Iranian presenters. Some of them champions of the environment in their own right.

Your collective presence here is a powerful indicator of your purposefulness.

This is indeed an important time for Iran to be able to count on new partnerships – on many fronts – in the wake of the Nuclear Deal, or Barjam, as we call it here.

For we live in a time of immense geopolitical uncertainty.

And the fact that Europe – writ large – has determined to work with Iran to meet here today and consider fundamental elements of cooperation on climate change, should fill us all with immense reassurance.

For, in our search for real security – human security – nothing can be more important than our environment, the platform on which all humans – inside and outside of Iran – will build a sustainable future for our children and their children.

And this evolving partnership between the EU/EC and Iran fits fully into this context. It demonstrates that the Paris Agreement is alive. And that it is being implemented.

It also demonstrates that many elements of the 2030 Agenda and the related SDGs are also alive and being implemented.

So let us move beyond Paris and beyond Marrakech.

Let us roll up our sleeves and increase speed in our implementation of the Agreement.

We need to move beyond Indicative Nationally-Determined Contributions (or INDCs) – to NDCs. Such a transition occurs when a country ratifies the Paris Agreement. And we look forward to news of such a development here in Iran.

Today, from the Iranian speakers, we will no doubt learn about:

The Supreme Leader’s General Policies on the Environment.

President Rouhani’s robust efforts to achieve a low-carbon / green economy for Iran.

Iran’s plans to reduce GHG emissions by 4% and possibly an additional 8% subject to the removal of all sanctions.

We look forward to learning more about how Iran intends to press on with its climate action strategies. Strategies which will mitigate for and adapt to climate change.

We look forward to learning that sufficient resources will be applied to these strategies here in Iran.

But we also look forward to hearing from our European partners. Specifically about:

What Europe itself has learnt from its efforts to implement Paris.

How Europe intends to support Iran’s effort to achieve its Paris commitments as well.

It is essential that our strategies be realistic. And that our metrics be robust.

For, sadly, when we look – across the planet – at the aggregation of all INDCs and NDCs, the totality of the numbers shows that we will NOT – on current projections – reach the 1.5-degree aspiration we established in Paris for capping temperature rise. We may not even be able to keep temperature rise to under the baseline 2-degree ceiling. The ceiling, we estimate, which is required to halt runaway climate change.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is the enormity of the challenge before us.

We simply cannot allow the momentum to slow.

If I may be allowed, I would like to share that one of the UN’s main roles in Iran – as stated in our compact with the Government called the UNDAF – is to support the Government’s efforts to “formulate, implement and monitor low-carbon economy and climate change policies and programmes more effectively.” Half of our agencies are committed to this goal. We are already working on this. Plus much else, related to the environment.

It is our topmost priority.

As I said at the beginning, I have been an honoured guest in Iran for over 4 years. I have seen many positive developments during these four years.

Much re-engagement with the wider world.

But it is in respect of action on the environment – and to promote sustainable development – and adapt to / or mitigate climate change – that we will ALL be judged (and judged severely) by our grandchildren.

For their ability to survive – in the future – on this fragile, endangered planet of ours, is now seriously in question.

I therefore end these opening – and context-setting – remarks by repeating our warm welcome to all the participants to this half-day event.

I will do my best – as Moderator – to stick to the timelines. I will also try to facilitate participation by the audience with questions towards the end of the thematic sessions.

I now call upon the first of our keynote speakers, Vice-President Massoumeh Ebtekar, to deliver her address.


*Source: UNIC-Tehran