What is the UN climate action summit?
18 September 2019 | Mitigation
UN secretary general António Guterres is hosting a climate summit in New York on 23 September to ramp up global efforts to tackle the climate crisis. The high-level meeting at the UN headquarters is a critical moment for political leaders to show their willingness to increase their climate plans and deepen the decarbonisation of their economies.
When and where?
The summit will take place over three days 21-23 September at UN Headquarters in New York. With a culminating summit of national leaders on Monday 23.
What’s going to happen?
A youth climate summit on Saturday 21 September will open the meeting, bringing together young activists, entrepreneurs and change-makers on the day following the world’s first global climate strike.
On Sunday, the nine coalitions are due to meet to take stock of their recent work and finalise details before Monday’s big reveal.
Monday’s plenary meeting, the main event, will be a combination of presentations from the best national plans and coalition initiatives being showcased on stage.
Why another UN climate meeting? Isn’t the Paris Agreement already acting as a compass for action?
Despite commitments by governments to tackle the climate crisis, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year on year.
Under the Paris Agreement, countries pledged to limit global temperature rise “well below” 2C of warming. But current national commitments will struggle to hold warming below 3C by the end of the century.
Countries have also agreed to review and update their climate plans every five years, with a view to progressively increase their emissions reductions targets. The first stage of this process is due next year.
What is Guterres demanding?
“Bring plans, not speeches,” Guterres told countries.
In a letter sent to every head of state, the UN chief set-out his expectations for the summit, urging governments to come with concrete and meaningful plans for action.
Excerpts of the letter, showed Guterres asked all leaders to come “ready to announce the plans that they will set next year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050”.
His demands, in line with the tougher 1.5C goal of the Paris deal, set a high benchmark for ambition. Reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 is something only a handful of largely developed countries have so far committed to do.
Guterres also called on countries to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030, end fossil fuel subsidies and ban new coal plants after 2020 – a set of asks unusually prescriptive for the head of the UN.
Who is coming?
60 heads of states are expected to take the podium to announce more ambitious plans – or at least plans to plan in time for next year’s climate talks.
Some of those expected to make an appearance include India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, France’s president Emmanuel Macron, the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson and German chancellor Angela Merkel. China is due to send a lower-ranking minister than initially anticipated – and the foreign minister is expected to be in attendance.
Neither US president Donald Trump, nor Australian prime minister Scott Morrison will attend the summit despite both attending the UN’s assembly general later in the week. Foreign minister Marise Payne and ambassador for the environment Patrick Suckling are expected to represent Australia, while US state department officials are also due to attend.
Besides business and civil society representatives, more than 500 young people have been selected to attend the summit, with youth due to play a key role throughout the event. The UN has funded travel “as carbon-neutral as possible” to New York for 100 young climate leaders from across the world.
What happens next?
The summit is a political moment for world leaders to take concrete steps to ramp up ambition. It doesn’t replace the annual climate negotiations talks, which this year are taking place in December in Santiago, Chile.
Instead, the summit marks an additional step for countries to build momentum ahead of the 2020 climate talks – the most important negotiating moment since the Paris Agreement when countries are due to announce how they are going to update their climate plans.
Following the summit, Guterres is expected to write an analytical report about the meeting’s achievement in securing additional emissions reduction pledges and the support needed to implement the proposed initiatives.
The report is due to be presented at Cop25 in Chile.