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‘Lingering doubt’: UN hopes to kick-start global action at Climate Ambition Summit

Countries are being encouraged to up their climate commitments.
Countries are being encouraged to up their climate commitments. Copyright AP Photo/Esteban Felix, File
Copyright AP Photo/Esteban Felix, File
By Rosie Frost with Reuters
Published on Updated
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This ‘critical political milestone’ hopes to demonstrate a global will for more ambitious climate action.

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Next week, world leaders are due to meet with the goal of keeping the Paris Agreement alive.

The Climate Ambition Summit will take place on 20 September after heads of state and government meet for general UN talks.

Following the release of the Global Stocktake - the world’s first climate change ‘report card’ - it's clear that some countries are falling behind on their pledges. This summit hopes to kick-start action on ambitious new commitments, transforming words into action.

In the words of UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, “The world is watching - and the planet can’t wait.”

What is on the table at the Climate Ambition Summit?

The UN says the Climate Ambition Summit represents a “critical political milestone” in demonstrating a collective will to accelerate efforts to keep global warming to 1.5C.

Just 10 weeks before COP28, it will be one of the last high profile gatherings aimed at getting countries to come forward with new climate actions and plans to shift away from fossil fuels after other meetings like the G7 and G20 fell short. 

It also follows a call from Guterres for countries - especially members of the G20 - to cooperate on accelerating climate action. The to-do list includes discussing how best to move from fossil fuels to clean energy, rapid cuts to emissions and commitment to science-based action.

Selwin Hart, special adviser on climate to the secretary-general, told Reuters there was "lingering doubt" that the world could meet its climate goals.

"There is too much backtracking; so we're really hoping that this summit can be used as a moment to inspire people," he said.  

The three key pillars of the summit are ambition, credibility and implementation.

Climate justice is another topic high on the agenda. While people in countries least responsible for the climate crisis suffer from the worst of its impact, they need help to adapt and recover from loss and damage.

AP Photo/Channi Anand
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for more ambitious climate action.AP Photo/Channi Anand

At the recent Africa Climate Summit, African heads of state unanimously called for a global carbon tax to fund resources for poorer nations. And - with this position informing their negotiations at COP28 in Dubai later this year - where the money for loss and damage comes from is likely to be an important subject of discussion.

Also on the schedule is the credibility of net zero pledges. Countries have been asked to take “clearly defined, concrete actions” to reach net zero faster - as close as possible to 2040 for developed nations and 2050 for emerging countries.

But what constitutes a credible net zero commitment? How can the world ensure that voluntary pledges actually happen? And how do we avoid greenwashing? The summit is hoping that some of the most ambitious leaders in businesses, cities and regions can show others the way.

Who will be at the Climate Ambition Summit?

Guterres called on world leaders to attend the Climate Ambition Summit to hear from the “first movers and doers” in government, civil society, local authorities, finance and business.

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It will showcase leaders who have answered his call for accelerated action. That means those with “credible, serious and new climate action and nature-based solutions that will move the needle forward and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis”, according to the secretary general.

As of Monday, the had UN yet to announce which world leaders and officials will be given speaking slots at the climate summit. Officials from more than 100 have reportedly told Guterres they want to be included. 

Leaders and heads of state from the world’s biggest economies are likely to be there but some have already confirmed they won’t attend - like US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Kin Cheung/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
British PM Rishi Sunak has said he won't be attending.Kin Cheung/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

He will be the country’s first PM in a decade to avoid the UN general assembly. There have been suggestions that the UK’s recent decision to approve new oil and gas fields in the North Sea and wavering commitments to its Paris Agreement pledges may mean he isn’t welcome to take part in discussions.

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Though other members of the UK government will be there, campaigners from the civil society group #StopRosebank called Sunak’s decision “frankly embarrassing”.

Some have also questioned the inclusion of leaders from the world’s most polluting countries, saying their participation undermines the ambition of the summit. 

But whether Guterres chooses to exclude countries that aren’t on track to meet their Paris Agreement pledges remains to be seen.

Hart  also adds that the assignment of speaking slots at the summit is not meant to embarrass leaders or countries but showcase those that are the first "getting things done".

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