RFSD 2024: Peer learning table on SDG 13

Ira Ponedelnik, Green Network (Belarus)

13 Mar 2024, Geneva

Dear distinguished delegates,

My name is Ira Ponedelnik, I represent Green Network (Belarus) and I am a board member of Climate Action Network Eastern Europe Caucasus and Central Asia (CAN EECCA). I am here today to speak on behalf of Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism for the UNECE region (ECE-RCEM).

In the ECE region, we are confronted with a triple planetary crisis. To achieve the SDGs for present and future generations, we must urgently address the lack of political will, armed conflicts, and corporate lobbying.

The wealthiest countries, who are most responsible for historic emissions, must lead by example to keep us within planetary boundaries. For those Member States, moving to a beyond GDP approach and ensuring structural economic system change will be necessary.

This year, the Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia (EECCA) region is hosting COP29. Despite Azerbaijan not being the first fossil fuel-producing nation to host a COP, concerns persist over the restriction of civic space. In Azerbaijan, freedoms of expression, assembly, and association are severely curtailed, with activists facing arbitrary arrests and prosecutions. We urge the COP presidency in Azerbaijan and all Member States to ensure openness, respect for human rights, and genuine engagement to ensure credibility and legitimacy in addressing climate challenges.

The issues of energy security and public access to decision-making are of fundamental importance. Considering that the use of fossil fuels is the main and undisputed cause of a rapidly changing climate and a catalyst for intercountry conflicts and wars, we must deliver immediately on a full and uncompromised, phase-out of all fossil fuels, coal, oil, and gas, in order to achieve the Paris Agreement. We must not rely on false solutions or unproven technologies such as carbon capture or geoengineering that will merely lock us into patterns of unsustainable energy use. We call on parties to accelerate a just transition to green energy. We do not support the development of nuclear energy as an alternative, and advocate for an exit from nuclear energy due to its intrinsic lack of safety and the heavy burden that nuclear waste management puts on the environment, biodiversity and communities for many thousands of years to come. Instead, investments should be directed towards the rapid development and deployment of natural positive renewable energy.

It is crucial for the UNECE region to spearhead the adoption of innovative financing mechanisms, such as carbon pricing, transaction taxes, and bonds. We witness the success of initiatives like EU4Climate and EU4Environment, and we urge the EU to persist in engaging Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries in addressing the climate crisis.

We urge countries to develop National Adaptation Plans, enhance NDC ambitions, co-developed with civil society, and involve women and youth in decision-making processes. Climate education is lacking in our region, so we propose investing in comprehensive programs across all levels of schooling and supporting climate journalists to combat misinformation.

Given the current political landscape in the region, engaging in climate-related initiatives beyond aiding marginalised communities can be dangerous. Those least responsible for the climate emergency must not be the ones to shoulder the burden, but states must provide support for the energy transition. Urgent assistance programs are also imperative for groups impacted by extreme weather events. These programs should include resilient insurance systems in place and provisions for food, medical care, psychological support, temporary housing, establishment of climate shelters, and active participation in the evacuation of vulnerable individuals.

UNECE countries have enormous potential for adaptation to climate change and the green transition. At the same time, strategies created at the national level very often remain "on paper," without leading to concrete improvements at the local level. We, as civil society, call to finally put the already existing policies in practice. And while we are ready to collaborate on this we will continue to work to strengthen protection of human rights and environmental and climate accountability in the region.