In an era characterized by mounting environmental crises, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres orchestrated a momentous gathering in New York City. The purpose? To spotlight the unwavering dedication of the world’s most resolute leaders in the realm of climate policy. This high-profile summit, aptly named the “Climate Ambition Summit,” aimed not only to celebrate the champions of climate action but also to tacitly admonish those who have been sluggish in their response to this global crisis.
Guterres, a staunch advocate for climate action who has made it a central tenet of his agenda, underscored his commitment to the cause by imposing stringent criteria for participation in this consequential event. Only leaders at the highest echelons, those demonstrating a genuine commitment to climate action, were granted the platform to address the assembly. This resolute stance came at the expense of the leaders of the world’s two most prominent polluters, China and the United States.
As the summit commenced, Guterres set the tone with a poignant declaration, “Climate action is dwarfed by the scale of the challenge.” He went on to emphasize the imperative of making up for lost time, attributing delays to foot-dragging, arm-twisting, and the unbridled avarice of vested interests profiting from the fossil fuel industry—the primary driver of global warming.
The Climate Ambition Summit was held in tandem with the annual General Assembly meeting and coincided with a concurrent U.N. Security Council session addressing the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which has dominated the assembly’s agenda for two consecutive years. This dual focus was Guterres’ acknowledgment of the mounting exasperation among smaller and less affluent nations. They contend that the preoccupation with the Ukraine conflict has diverted the attention of wealthier nations away from their commitments to assist developing countries, which bear minimal responsibility for the emissions accelerating global warming. These nations are grappling with the daunting task of managing climate change risks and transitioning to renewable energy sources.
Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados and a fervent advocate for climate action, articulated the urgency of the situation. She drew parallels between addressing the Ukraine crisis in the Security Council and tackling climate change, stressing that the latter poses a greater global threat with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Curiously, among the world’s four leading emitters, only the European Union received an invitation to address the summit. Notably, the leaders of China and India, both populous nations and significant contributors to global emissions, were conspicuously absent from this week’s United Nations meetings, including the climate summit. This absence underscores a prevailing sense that the United Nations is confronting a crisis of confidence as it grapples with a cascade of global emergencies.
While the summit’s overarching theme was ambition, it yielded few tangible commitments. Canada and several European Union member states pledged to allocate more of their budgets to climate finance in the developing world. Additionally, they committed to redistributing special access they previously enjoyed to funds from international lending institutions in favor of less affluent countries.
Among the select few representing the United States, Governor Gavin Newsom of California took center stage. Newsom, renowned for enacting a multitude of climate-focused measures, recently announced California’s intention to sue major oil companies, accusing them of perpetuating disinformation campaigns over several decades. Newsom’s unequivocal denunciation of fossil fuel producers earned him the loudest applause of the event.
He boldly asserted, “This climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis. It’s not complicated. It’s the burning of oil, the burning of gas, the burning of coal. We need to call that out. For decades, the oil industry has been playing each and everyone in this room for fools. Their deceit and denial going back decades have created the conditions that persist here today.”
The Climate Ambition Summit serves as a prelude to the annual United Nations climate talks, commonly referred to as COP, slated to begin in just over two months in the United Arab Emirates. The Emirates’ status as a major fossil fuel producer has cast a shadow of skepticism over the credibility of the COP meetings, which in recent years have repeatedly failed to foster consensus on some of the most pressing climate issues.
This year’s COP faces a sobering report, commissioned by the conference itself, which predicts that current climate commitments will lead to a perilous rise in global average temperatures of 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 if nations adhere to their present pledges. The window for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a widely recognized climate goal, is rapidly closing, warns the report.
Despite the weight of these challenges, many speakers at the climate summit sought to infuse hope into their addresses. They acknowledged the increasingly visible toll of inaction through climate-induced emergencies worldwide. Nevertheless, it was leaders like President Gabriel Boric of Chile, a fervent young socialist, who delivered the most compelling calls to action. Boric challenged the prevailing self-congratulatory atmosphere, asserting that delegates needed to push relentlessly against laggards, whether they be fossil fuel companies or nations reluctant to wean themselves off fossil fuels.
He declared with conviction, “If we’re not able to make those groups yield to the will of the international community, then the truth is we won’t hit our targets.”