Momentum gathers around climate summit but more needed from world leaders


The United Nations Climate Leaders Summit today was another step in the direction of ending the fossil fuel era, and towards signing an international agreement to address climate change in Paris in 2015. While the Summit produced positive signals and put new money on the table for climate action, many governments in New York simply used the opportunity to restate what they are already doing instead of announcing what they are going to do next.

The Summit kicked off with strong remarks from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and an emotional call to action from Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, whose poem directed to her six-month-old daughter ended the opening session with a standing ovation. Following record-breaking demonstrations where almost 700,000 people joined the People’s Climate Marches over the weekend, government leaders have been under increased pressure to make deeper cuts in carbon pollution faster.

A small, but growing number of countries lived up to growing expectations, with Samoa, Tuvalu, Costa Rica and Denmark pledging to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to 100 per cent renewable energy. Additionally, Germany, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Ethiopia and Iceland pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050 while China, the world’s largest carbon polluter, signaled that it intends to peak emissions as soon as possible. US President Barack Obama, who leads the world’s second highest carbon emitting nation, used his platform at the summit to hint at more ambitious US action in the future, raising hopes for US-China collaboration and leadership towards a global agreement in Paris.

Beyond Tuesday’s announcements and speeches, New York also delivered a range of promising private-public initiatives. 73 countries including major emitters like China and Russia, 22 states, provinces and cities, and over 1,000 businesses and investors support a global price on carbon. Together, these governments represent 54 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 52 percent of global GDP.


RT @350: This. This the poem that just brought world leaders to tears. #Climate2014 #PeoplesClimate

Key Points

  • A weekend of unprecedented public calls for climate action and a New York summit that saw one Head of State after another acknowledging the need to listen to the people and act, has put climate change back to the top of the political agenda. Almost 700,000 people around the world marched for climate action on Sunday. This record-breaking global mobilization shows that sectors all across society in all corners of the world are concerned about inaction on climate change and ready to accelerate a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources.
  • In New York, a growing number of governments confirmed the need to end the fossil fuel era and craft a global climate agreement in Paris next year. Too many government leaders restated old pledges though, and didn’t offer new actions and ambition. According to observers, they run the risk of facing political blowback and international condemnation, unless they respond to citizens’ demands with concrete actions to halt the climate crisis. The choice for government leaders is between managing the orderly transition of our economies or ending up on the wrong side of history.
  • China’s announcement that its emissions will peak “as soon as possible” and the US’s signal that it will take a leadership role in international negotiations were welcomed, but the proof will be in the pudding. NGOs are now calling on Heads of States to mandate their negotiators to produce a draft agreement in Lima this December that can form the foundations of a global action plan in Paris next year. And by March 2015 all governments have to present cold numbers instead of sweet words, when they face a deadline for bringing national climate action commitments to the UN climate talks. The transition from dirty to clean energy is inevitable and beneficial, and this week in New York has shown that governments can’t escape the public demand for change.


The UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit showcased how not just governments, but all sectors of society are coming together to take increasingly swift and strong action to tackle global warming; to help developing nations leapfrog to clean, sustainable economies, while adapting to climate impacts that already pose significant risks.

US President Barack Obama acknowledged that following the the People’s Climate March, the will of the people for climate action cannot be ignored, and the people’s message that to change everything we need everyone has been strongly reflected at the summit.

All participating Governments reaffirmed commitments to a low carbon resilient pathway, and many pledged significant increases in financial assistance to developing nations struggling to deal with climate change impacts.

Along with greater support from governments, a range of key sectors – such as business, finance, forestry, industry, agriculture and transport; as well as civil society and city mayors around the world – have announced efforts to contribute in their own way, from tangible initiatives that will make a difference to projects that some consider hardly more than greenwashing.

Shifting dirty investments away from fossil fuels is essential to cleaning up the global economy, and to this end more than US$200 billion from public and private sources will now be mobilized by the end of 2015. The Green Climate Fund also saw new pledges amounting to 9-digit-numbers, and there were announcements about.the decarbonization of investment portfolios, investments by banks in new climate activities, and wide support for pricing carbon emissions.

Overall, there is a growing sense that the fossil fuel era is ending, with many at the summit – including French President François Hollande – emphasising the need say goodbye to the fossil fuel economy. This echoes several reports from the last week demonstrating that there is no future in coal, as well as new key divestment actions, such as the Rockefellers’ decision to abandon oil.

As the inevitable end to fossil fuels comes into view, a small but growing number of countries joined UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former US Vice President Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio to confirm the need accelerate the switch to 100 per cent renewable energy, with countries such as Germany, Ethiopia, Iceland, Sweden and more pledging to go carbon neutral by 2050.

Extensive renewable energy projects are also being scaled up in Africa and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to help millions of people cut carbon emissions, leapfrog dirty power systems, and simultaneously improve energy access and energy security. Energy efficiency efforts, key in every low carbon transition, are also being scaled up, with commitments for vehicles, lighting, appliances and buildings aim to save more than one gigatonne of carbon emissions by 2025

Measures to protect the world’s forests have also progressed, with more than 150 partners – including 28 governments – signing the New York Declaration on Forests. The declaration calls for cutting the loss of forests in half by 2020, to end it entirely by 2030, and to restore 350 million hectares of forest – an area larger than India. While it has not been signed by Brazil’s national government, hope remains that they key player will eventually agree to end Amazon deforestation – given three of its states, Acre, Amapa and Amazonas, have signed.

While there is renewed hope for protection and revitalisation of forests, urban centres are also being targeted. With cities currently responsible for about 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, 2,000 mayors from around the world have signed a compact to harmonize their emissions reduction targets and strategies, potentially saving eight gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually in 2050.

Key to reducing emissions in cities and from the estimated 70 per cent of people that will live in them by 2050 is the transition to sustainable rail, air, electric vehicles and urban public transport. The cleanup of transport systems is being scaled up, with potential savings of US$70 trillion in fossil fuel costs, and carbon emission reductions of 75 per cent for rail and 50 per cent for aviation expected by 2050.

Industry is also promising more, with five initiatives announced to reduce potent short-lived climate pollutants – such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). This initiative could slow the increase in global temperatures expected over the next 35 years by as much as 0.6 DegC while delivering positive health benefits.

With the world headed to nine billion people – most of which will live in cities – and more pressure on the natural environment from increasing extreme weather events, food security and carbon emissions from agriculture are of critical importance. To this end, initiatives to promote Climate-Smart Agriculture were announced at the summit, with a goal of helping 500 million farmers reduce emissions and build resilience to the impacts of climate change.

And resilience will be needed, as the world is currently on track for 4 DegC of warming, and an increase of less than 1DegC is already having massive environmental, economic, health and social impacts.

The Climate Leaders summit in New York has showcased the increasingly strong and comprehensive moves being taken by sectors throughout the global community to address climate change, and the public has made its desire for real action abundantly clear. The pressure is now on world leaders to harness the momentum of the last week, and multiply it as they work towards finalising a strong global action plan in Paris next year to keep the world below the 2DegC of warming guardrail.



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Key Quotes

  • “Change is in the air. Today’s Climate Summit has shown an entirely new, cooperative global approach to climate change. The actions announced today by governments, businesses, finance and civil society show that many partners are eager to confront the challenges of climate change together. [T]he world is finally waking up to the economic and social opportunities of taking action on climate change. The Climate Summit is showcasing a level of ambition not seen before and producing actions and new initiatives that will make a significant difference.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
  • “But this Summit is not about talk. The Climate Summit is producing actions that make a difference. This weekend hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets around the world to demand leadership—and results. I joined the marchers here in New York. They gave me the box with 2 million signatures.They asked me to bring their voices into the halls of the United Nations. That is what I have done.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
  • “The climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. The alarm bells keep ringing. Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call.” – US President Barack Obama
  • “Just a few minutes ago, I met with Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, and reiterated my belief that as the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a special responsibility to lead.  That’s what big nations have to do… There should be no question that the United States of America is stepping up to the plate.  We recognize our role in creating this problem; we embrace our responsibility to combat it.  We will do our part, and we will help developing nations do theirs.  But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation—developed and developing alike.  Nobody gets a pass.” – US President Barack Obama
  • “As a responsible major country, China will make greater  effort to more effectively address climate change and take on international responsibilities that are commensurate with its national conditions, stage of development and actual capabilities. We will announce post-2020 actions on climate change as soon as we can, which will bring about marked progress in reducing carbon intensity, increasing the share of non-fossil fuels and raising the forest stock, as well as the peaking of total CO2 emissions as early as possible.” –  Zhang Gaoli, Vice Premier of the State Council of China
  • “You have called upon Leaders to arrive in New York with bold announcements. AOSIS is here to answer your call. No one better understands the grave risks posed by climate change than SIDS. Climate change and sea level rise are already threatening our viability and even our existence as sovereign nations. The science is clear: The window to achieve a 2 degree or 1.5 degree pathway is rapidly closing. We understand the risks, and we are taking action. We will continue to lead. SIDS have set some of the most ambitious renewable energy and energy efficiency targets in the world. They have been adopted in our legislation and enshrined in international declarations, such as the Barbados and Majuro Declarations.” –  Baron Waqa, President of the Republic of Nauru and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States
  • “As undoubtedly one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, Tuvalu’s future is in your hands. The time for denial, for hesitation, for pandering to the interests of the fossil fuel industry is over. We must all act together for the future of humankind. Everyone must do something. To this end, Tuvalu has announced that it is committed to employing 100% renewable energy for its electricity supply sector by 2020. This commitment, and I use the word commitment intentionally, will not be easy.” – Enele Sosene Sopoaga, Prime Minister, Tuvalu
  • “Africa’s surging economic growth can be fuelled by an energy mix that emphasizes the development of its vast renewable energy resources.Low-carbon economic development powered by renewable energy can help meet the challenge that climate change presents all while improving the livelihoods and economic well-being of people all over Africa.” – Chairperson of the African Union, Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma.

Reaction Quotes

  • “Just days after more than half a million people around the world took to the streets to demand action on the climate crisis, today’s summit will conclude with only a partial and piecemeal response. “Some positive signals were sent, but too many of the commitments made lack vital details or are recycled. No government should leave New York thinking the job is done.” – Tim Gore, head of climate policy at Oxfam
  • “If the President [Obama] really wants collective ambition, he’s got to show a little more can do spirit from the world’s leading economy. Today’s boasts about his climate efforts ring hollow in the face of America passing Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’ s largest oil and gas producer. We hope that when ‘next year’ comes and he proposes actual targets they’ll start to reverse the trend.” – Bill McKibben,
  • “We welcome President Obama’s clear focus on ambition and his personal commitment to lead. President Obama recognizes the United States’ role in the problem and responsibility to act with utmost urgency in partnership with all other countries. I am encouraged by President Obama’s promise to put forth an ambitious post-2020 climate commitment early next year. Strong signals that the United States is decarbonizing its economy will set the stage for a successful outcome at the climate negotiations next year. As growing evidence shows, investing in a low-carbon economy creates jobs, reduces air pollution and improves people’s lives. The United States now must build on the importance progress made in recent years.” – Jennifer Morgan, Director, Climate and Energy Programs, World Resources Institute
  • “The president [Obama] reemphasized the administration’s ongoing promise to meet its existing emissions targets and set new ones. However, it will be impossible to fulfill the agreements made in the Copenhagen Accord to keep global emissions in line with a 2 degree Celsius target without more substantial action by Congress and the President. New efforts must deliver much needed climate finance for poor countries and take further measures to reduce emissions in the US.” – Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America
  • “China’s remarks at the Climate Summit go further than ever before. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli’s announcement to strive to peak emissions ‘as early as possible’ is a welcome signal for the cooperative action we need for the Paris Agreement.  Peaking emissions is vital to curb climate change and to rein in dangerous air pollution. China’s collaboration with other countries to advance low carbon development should inspire other countries as they outline their climate commitments in the coming months. China’s focus on South-South cooperation is particularly important in building trust. The strong back-to-back statements by the two largest emitters send a clear signal that both countries will work seriously to put in place climate solutions domestically and reach an ambitious international agreement in Paris next year.” – Jennifer Morgan, Director, Climate and Energy Programs, World Resources Institute
  • “Five years after Copenhagen, China is in a vastly different position. Domestic air pollution is forcing the country to embark on a new path away from coal and 2014 saw the lowest coal consumption growth in a decade. After the surging carbon emissions over the past decade, we welcome the Vice Premier’s pledge to peak emissions as early as possible, and call on China to peak its greenhouse gas emission much before 2025. The country must also capitalize on its domestic progress on coal and deliver an ambitious post-2020 target.” – Greenpeace Senior Climate and Energy Policy Officer Li Shuo
  • “Requiring [US] federal agencies to consider climate change in international development programs is a good step, and we hope President Obama will extend this logic to every federal agency decision, especially around the extraction and export of fossil fuels. So far, the Obama administration continues to allow the fossil fuel industry to undermine efforts to address climate change by mining and drilling for coal, oil, and gas from our public lands and waters, unlocking huge quantities of carbon pollution. President Obama’s climate efforts and speech today are welcome, but we can do much more to reduce carbon pollution in the United States and help communities around the world deal with the impacts of climate change.” – Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard
  • “Europe has given an important signal in supporting the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change through the Green Climate Fund, although the details remain unclear. However, the current mitigation targets and the proposed 2030 climate and energy targets to be decided upon by next month fall short of a truly ambitious plan.  These targets will not drive divestment from coal and oil, but will lock it in for the next 16 years. Europe can do better, and must do better. The European Union must set more ambitious climate and energy targets.” – Martin Kaiser, Head of International Climate Policy at Greenpeace
  • “Following Sunday’s impressive showing of more 400,000 people calling for action on climate change, we’ve seen some action from world leaders today, but not enough to match the energy of the people marching for their children’s future. To preserve the health and safety of our planet and the human race, we must meet targets dictated by science–not agreed by politicians. This week we saw progressive business and faith leaders making strong commitments that are moving ahead of what world leaders promised today.  The leaders of major economies must be bolder than they were today in providing a vision for 100% renewable energy for all.” – Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo
  • “Leaders in New York, including US President Barack Obama, acknowledged they can no longer act against the will of the people. And on the weekend, the will of the people was made profoundly clear. Mums and dads, people of faith, progressive business leaders, union members and youth – all are already taking action in massive numbers, and they expect Heads of Government to join them and do more, now.” Climate Action Network director Wael Hmaidan
  • “In Copenhagen, businesses were left waiting at the altar for governments to solve the climate change problem. Companies then moved on with their own climate action plans – and you’re seeing some first results of those efforts today. Strong corporate action is critical – from company actions to sector-busting coalitions – on issues like deforestation and 100% renewable energy. It’s equally important that these leaders raise the bar for emissions reductions, setting ambitious goals on not only what they can achieve, but also what the science tells us is needed. But some powerful parts of the private sector are still actively standing in the way of policy decisions that could lead to more renewable investments and a clean energy future. That kind of backward-thinking and obstructionism must stop. We agree with the business leaders at the Summit today – they are moving and it’s now governments’ turn to raise ambition and lead.” – Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy initiative
  • “Those countries that are hawking old goods today have to go back to their capitals with a renewed determination to get their countries on the right path with the words of the Marshall Islands’, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner ringing in their ears, who said in the opening ceremony on behalf of civil society “We deserve to not just survive. We deserve to thrive.” – Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Change Advisor Mohamed Adow
  • “Today is the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit 2014, in New York City. We, The Elders, are asking governments to lead decisively to protect the poorest and most vulnerable communities, and future generations. Now. Not Tomorrow. The solutions to the threats we face from climate change are here. We have the tools and technology for a global low-carbon economy. Not. Not Tomorrow. Climate change demands a legally binding commitment from governments working together for a robust and fair agreement. Today the world is watching. World leaders must give us reason to believe change is possible.” – The Elders

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