Environment

Special UN Climate Action Summit

SDG goal 13Climate change is a critical issue facing the world today, and many see it as an existential crisis. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a special UN Climate Action Summit, where leaders from government and business would outline their actions to address this threat, even going beyond what was first agreed upon at the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement marked the first time that all nations agreed to the common cause of combating climate change and required that all parties put forth their best efforts to limit the global temperature increase to less than 2° Celsius, with a stretch goal to limit that increase to 1.5° Celsius. It was drafted at the Conference of the Parties (COP) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in late 2015 in Paris, was opened for signatures on Earth Day, April 22, 2016, and went into effect on November 4, 2016 after the 55 countries who represent 55% of global emissions had ratified it on October 5th. Guterres emphasized that the focus of this most recent Summit must be concrete actions and not just plans. Only the leaders of “action” countries were asked to present on Monday, September 23, 2019 during the UN General Assembly in New York, NY.

Fridays for Future

The spotlight on the climate crisis has gained extra power over the last year due to Greta Thunberg,0 11 a Swedish teenager, who began her Fridays for Future (#FridaysforFuture) school strikes on August 20, 2018. The attention and coverage of these events, along with her speaking to multiple governments, has grown over the past year. Greta Thunberg’s environmentally conscious travel to New York for the UN Climate Summit (onboard a zero-carbon yacht – harnessing wind, sun, and hydro power), and eventually to Chile for the COP in November, has garnered her even more public attention. As a result, significant worldwide strikes occurred on Friday, September 20 and Friday, September 27 under the banner Global Strike for Future. On the first Friday, over four million people participated in climate strikes across 4,500 locations; on the second Friday, over two million participated across 2,400 locations. In addition to the strike, Greta Thunberg and 15 other children representing countries around the world filed a formal legal complaint against five countries. This complaint was filed with the UN Rights of the Child Committee and alleges that these countries are violating their rights as children by failing to sufficiently address climate change.

Mr. Guterres set a strong tone during his opening remarks about the future children could face: “I will not be there, but my granddaughters will, and your grandchildren, too, I refuse to be an accomplice in the destruction of their one and only home.”

And the results are…

What was achieved at the Summit was summarized in the closing press release:

65 countries and major sub-national economies such as California committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, while 70 countries announced they will either boost their national action plans by 2020 or have started the process of doing so. 

Over 100 business leaders delivered concrete actions to align with the Paris Agreement targets and speed up the transition from the grey to a green economy, including asset-owners holding over $2 trillion in assets and leading companies with combined value over $2 trillion. 

Many countries and over 100 cities – including many of the world's largest – announced significant and concrete new steps to combat the climate crisis.

The release also outlined specific commitments which can be read in detail:  https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/assets/pdf/CAS_closing_release.pdf

Mixed to negative?

While the organizers of the summits touted these achievements, coverage of the Summit commitments was mixed to negative. The countries who are china 1020914 960 720indian flag 1079103 960 720USA the largest polluters - China, The United States and India – made little to no substantive commitments to reduce their pollution during the day. Helen Mountford, Vice President for Climate and Economics at the World Resource Institute, said “What we’ve seen so far is not the kind of leadership we need from the major economies.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made remarks at the Summit that his country’s goals must be higher but only made additional commitments for using more renewable energy. Currently, their efforts and plans are in line with the 2° Celsius reduction goals of the Paris Agreement. 

Foreign Minister Wang Yi, China's state counselor and special representative of Chinese President Xi Jinping, also articulated the need for all countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions. He outlined that China is ahead of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) plan to reduce emissions. However, that NDC plan is not in line with the 2° Paris Agreement goals.

President Donald Trump of the United States of America did not speak at the Summit and has announced plans for the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The US is also not on track to achieve voluntary targets. Withdrawal from the Agreement cannot formally occur until the 4-year anniversary of when the Agreement went into effect or November 4, 2020.

The next critical event on the global stage for battling climate change will be in Santiago, Chile this November, at the UN COP25. At that time, countries will need to determine the specific plans to meet their commitments, and those who have not yet increased their NDCs will hear from their peers and from activists that more is needed.

“COP 25 ... is going to be a key moment where there will be again, a lot of public pressure and public scrutiny and accountability to see whether these countries are stepping up,” said WRI’s Mountford. “All eyes are going to be very firmly fixed on them over the next couple of months looking at whether they are going to be able to step up and deliver what is needed.”

Sources:

UNFCCC — The Paris Agreement

September 2019 Climate Strikes (Wikipedia)

UN Climate Action Strike 2019 Closing Press Release

Vox September 24, 2019 post climate conference coverage

New York Times September 23, 2019 post climate conference coverage

Business Insider

Written by:

Joan Evers (AWC Madrid)

 

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