The UN Climate Ambition Summit: First Doers and Movers Commended

Paul Rahmat SVD

Climate change has severely impacted people’s lives and caused huge biodiversity loss. Intense and severe droughts, heat waves, wildfires, storms, floods, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and warming oceans have already affected between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people across the globe. With the scorching weather in July, the hottest summer ever on record across the Northern Hemisphere, the evidence signals that we live in a new era of climate crisis. The UN Secretary-General once said, “The era of global warming has ended. The era of global boiling has arrived.”

The current global temperature has increased to 1.1°C degrees, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. It is close to reaching 1.5°C degrees. Paris Agreement suggests keeping the global temperature under 2°C, preferably 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial temperatures, to make Earth habitable.

The scientific community warns us that the window opportunity is almost close to reaching 1.5°C degrees if we don’t take rapid and bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the world is not on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Based on the latest IPCC assessment, the world will lead toward 2.8°C degrees compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

In that context, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, urgently convened the Climate Ambition Summit at the High-Level Week of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 20, 2023. The summit is a political milestone of climate talks toward COP28 in Dubai.

The Climate Summit

The Climate Ambition Summit brought together governments, finance institutions, local authorities, businesses, and civil society to accelerate collective global action. The Climate Summit provided the opportunity to hear from so-called “first movers and doers” who are committed to and moving in the right direction of phasing out fossil fuels and embracing renewable and transition energy toward a climate-resilient global economy.

The summit was designed to deliver on three interrelated tracks – ambition, credibility, and implementation. The countries were asked to update their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Net-zero targets as agreed at COP26 in Glasgow.  It is the hope that all member states, especially the biggest polluters countries, present their commitments to move on from the fossil fuels phase-out plans to transition energy with more ambitious renewable energy targets.

The plans are not just ambitious but also credible. The non-state actors, including businesses, cities, regions, and financial institutions, present their transition plans and net-zero pledges aligned with the UN credibility standard, which brings into line with the Paris Agreement goal.

Several countries considered the “first movers and doers” came to the Summit with ambitious and concrete plans.  Germany, for instance, announced $2 billion to add the Green Climate Fund for clean energy and climate projects in developing countries. Denmark will reach net zero emissions by 2045 rather than 2050. Marshal Islands, a small Pacific Island nation, joined other countries to phase out oil and gas in the global shipping business. Brazil announced to end deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by 2030 and reduce 50% of its national emissions. Thailand has increased its efforts to slash emissions by 40% instead of 20%, and at least 67 countries signed a global pact to protect the oceans from environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.

Unfortunately, the leaders of five top polluters nations – the United States, China, India, France, and the United Kingdom – were absent from the summit talks. Those countries contribute over 50% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. With that, people are concerned about possibly reaching a green deal of phasing out fossil fuels at COP28.

Global March to End Fossil Fuels

Two days before the UN Summits Week kicked off, people across the globe embarked on a historic global march protesting fossil fuels. Around 600,000 people across 65 countries were estimated to join a global call to action demanding an urgent end to the fossil fuels era.

In New York alone, an estimated 75,000 people from all generations, races, professions, faiths, genders, and indigenous people from states and cities of the United States and abroad took to the streets at Broadway in lower Manhattan on a bright Sunday, September 17th, 2023. Endorsed by 800 organizations, including VIVAT International, the global fight to end fossil fuels was the most significant event after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The scale of this worldwide mobilization highlights the growing collective awareness of the climate crisis, driven by this summer’s record-breaking heat, devastating floods, and extreme weather events.

Fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – remain the biggest driver of the climate crisis. The fossil fuel industry and its enablers are responsible for this crisis, perpetuating an exploitative economic system that harms humanity and the planet. In his remarks at the UN Climate Ambition Summit, California Governor  Gavin Newsom said, “This climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis.”  “This climate crisis persists. It is not complicated,” he added. “It’s the burning oil.  It’s the burning of gas. It’s the burning of coal. And we need to call that out.”

The historic global march seemingly demonstrated a people power in the climate change regime that declared war against fossil fuels. The old era of fossil fuels must end, and the world must embrace the new era of renewable, sustainable energy in fast, just, and equitable ways.  This is a clear message that people and civil societies across the globe send to world leaders who will gather at COP28 in Dubai in early December this year.

Paul Rahmat SVD