Backgrounder: Climate Summit

In the face of worsening climate crisis, the UN Climate Summit will aim to deliver new pathways and practical actions to shift global response into higher gear.

What is the Climate Action Summit?

 The New York Climate Action Summit is a high-profile event to showcase public and private ambitions and advancements in the sphere of climate action. Political leaders, businesspeople, and members of civil society will gather on September 23rd for panels, speeches and presentations on plans that aim to accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The Climate Action Summit will be preceded by the Youth Climate Summit on September 21st, which focuses on public engagement and mobilization, and kicks off the New York Climate Week, during which there are hundreds of varied climate-related events scheduled.

The action plans developed for the Summit will target a 45% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, with a view to net-zero emissions by 2050. Ideas presented on the 23rd are expected to inform discussions at December’s 25th Conference of Parties in Chile (COP25), where parties to the Paris Agreement will have their existing commitments and actions reviewed.

 What Happened Last Time?

 The inaugural event was held in San Francisco in 2018. Then, the event was devoid of heads of state, and instead was driven by mayors, governors, and philanthropists looking to show the world that the support of their national leaders is not needed for people to join the fight against climate change. During the summit, 29 philanthropic organizations made headlines when they jointly pledged $4 billion to combat climate change over the following 5 years. Other major commitments included:

  • Cities including Tokyo, Rotterdam, and West Hollywood joining the C40 Green and Healthy Streets declaration, promising to buy only zero-emissions buses after 2025.
  • 38 cities signed up for World Green Building Council’s program to meet net-zero carbon standards by 2050.
  • 25 cities signed onto the C40 Cities Waste Reduction Declaration to reduce municipal waste generation, landfill disposal and incineration by 2030.

New York, Maryland, and Connecticut announced plans to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (greenhouse gases) and replace them with climate-friendlier coolants in new refrigerators, air conditioners, and other products.

What’s the Structure of the Summit? 

 The local approach from 2018 has since been abandoned, and the 2019 event will be led by the United Nations, accompanied by diverse coalition of representatives from national governments and multinational development agencies such as the World Bank and World Health Organization.

 Areas of focus have been split into nine broad “tracks” led by distinct teams. During the Summit, team leaders, alongside partners and supporting actors, will present on their climate objectives and how to meet them.

 The Summit’s focus on ambition is inspired by the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the potentially disastrous impacts of a 1.5°C rise in global temperatures, which will not be avoided with current national commitments under the Paris Agreement. 

Summit Tracks 

 There will be no room for platitudes – all plans are required to be innovative, inclusive, and scalable, with concrete and measurable effects. 

Mitigation – led by Japan and Chile – will focus on strategies to curb greenhouse gas emissions, mainly for the major emitters.

Social and Political Drivers – led by Peru and Spain – will aim to ensure that action plans across all tracks are inclusive, and promote employment, health, and social justice.

Youth Mobilization – led by the Marshall Islands and Ireland – will concern mobilizing youth and civil society in support of climate action, and showcasing the importance of youth activism.

Energy Transition – led by Denmark and Ethiopia – will tackle aspects of the energy transition to clean energy, focusing on public and private investment, high emitting sectors, and global equality in terms of access to clean and reliable sources of energy.

Resilience and Adaptation – led by Egypt and the United Kingdom – will look to assure sustainability of food, water and jobs for the future as well as effective disaster prevention and recovery.

Nature-based Solutions – led by China and New Zealand – will promote the role of forests and land-based ecosystems in human survival, and cultivate a more harmonious existence between man and nature.

Infrastructure, cities, and Local Government – led by Turkey and Kenya – will focus on scaling smaller-scale ambitious commitments on low-emission and resilient physical and financial infrastructure to the international level.

Climate Finance and Carbon Pricing – led by France, Jamaica, and Qatar – will lead the way in building new initiatives and coalitions, and show how Paris Agreement parties can deliver on former commitments to provide $100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation 

Industry – led by India and Sweden – will describe how to create and follow through on stronger commitments from sectors in which it has historically been difficult to reduce emissions.

Preparing for the COP25 in Chile this Fall


The 25th Conference of the Parties will be held in Santiago, Chile from December 2-13,  2019. The annual COP meeting is the conference that governs the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and, as a testament to the annual meeting’s influence, the Paris Agreement was negotiated at COP21 in 2015.

During the COP24 in Poland in 2018, rules concerning the implementation of the Paris Agreement were finalized, covering topics such as how emissions must be reported. The last COP was fractious in the wake of the IPCC report that suggested existing Paris commitments were not sufficient to stem a 1.5C increase. The report changed little at the time, but there is still time for national commitments to change before the agreement comes into force in 2020.

 Presentations in New York this week will provide the backdrop for the COP25 in Santiago. Time will tell whether the 2019 Climate Action Summit will introduce enough new approaches to drive international adoption of more aggressive climate change agendas.

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