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A turning point for climate action?

By Oxfam

Two historic events focused on climate change will take place in New York City in the coming days. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s happening in New York?

On September 21, the People’s Climate March aims to become the largest climate march in history. The grassroots event will bring together hundreds of thousands of people and more than 1,400 partner organizations—including Oxfam. Volunteers from the Oxfam Action Corps have organized a group of supporters (including chefs, musicians, farmers, and more) in the march through the streets of Manhattan to draw global attention to the impact of climate change on our communities, our food system, and the global fight against hunger. To join their efforts, RSVP here.

Then, on September 23, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will bring world leaders together at the 2014 Climate Summit, which aims to “engage leaders and advance climate action and ambition” on a global scale.

Why is climate change important right now?

Climate change is already costing lives and making poor people hungry. It is happening now, contributing to storms, floods, droughts, and shifting weather patterns that make it harder for people to grow and access enough nutritious food. By 2050, there could be an extra 25 million malnourished children under the age of five because of climate change.

Elisabeth Tamara, 10, stands in front of Nevado Huascaran—the highest mountain in Peru. Locals, who depend on melting ice for their water supplies, say the level of ice and snow on the mountain is retreating. Photo: Gilvan Barreto/Oxfam

And the cost of climate change only rises with each passing year. A recent Oxfam report found that, since global leaders last met to discuss climate change five years ago in Copenhagen, climate-related disasters have cost the world almost half a trillion dollars, making those years among the most expensive on record. More than 650 million people have been affected and more than 112,000 lives have been lost.

What will happen at the climate summit?

Ban Ki-moon originally invited governments to come to the Climate Summit with bold actions they are undertaking to address climate change. But because few governments have made any real commitments, companies have been encouraged to fill the void.

Different UN agencies are now working with businesses to come up with initiatives in which companies and governments work together to tackle climate change. These include an ambitious plan to connect half of the African continent to a green energy grid; and a plan for Google and Microsoft to join forces with mobile phone companies to provide severe-weather seasonal forecasts to African farmers, along with suggestions for how they can adapt to protect their harvests.

Oxfam analyzed these initiatives and found that most will be helpful. However, few are really ground-breaking, and some pay insufficient attention to the needs of people on the front lines of climate change. As a package, they do not come close to the scale of action required. For that, political leaders will need to step up and make real commitments of their own.

That’s why Oxfam hopes that the summit will be a wake-up call for both government leaders and companies—and that they will heed the message of the hundreds of thousands taking to the streets to demand action.

Read more about how climate change is affecting people around the world.

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