What happened at the New York Climate Summit?

Leaders from governments, businesses, and civil society met in New York last weekend, 21-23rd September, for the United Nations Climate Action Summit [1]. They discussed how to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, in line with the Paris Agreement [4]. On Monday they announced new steps to confront climate change [1]. Many of these commitments are more ambitious than previous plans, and have a better chance of sufficiently limiting warming [2]. However, many people, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations and Greta Thunberg, say that plans must be more concrete and that more countries and businesses need to make ambitious commitments [2,5].

77 of the 193 countries attending said they will cut greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050 [2,8]. The European Union said that at least a quarter of its next budget will be used for climate action [2]. You might expect that countries that have contributed the most to climate change would now do the most to combat it. Sadly this is not the case – some of the biggest pledges were from small islands and Least Developed Countries, who suffer the worst from climate change [10] but have contributed the least to the problem [2].

Methods discussed to tackle climate change took a range of forms. Nature was a major topic. For example, Pakistan has pledged to plant 10 billion trees in 5 years [2]. Finance was of course a central topic too. 12 countries will start donating to the “Green Climate Fund” which helps developing countries cope with climate change [2,9]. A group of private investors, responsible for $2 trillion, have committed to investing in only carbon-neutral initiatives by 2050 [2].

This sounds like good progress, but there are still major gaps in the world’s plan of action to tackle climate change [7]. China is still building new coal power stations [5], and many countries are not on track to meet their own emissions targets – the UK for example is still aiming to expand their largest airport [5,6].


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