United Nations Climate Summit 2014

Siqi Zhou

The Climate Summit at the United Nations on September 23, 2014 was an “unprecedented and important gathering” of more than 120 Heads of States and Government, and business and civil society leaders. During the Summit, leaders at the highest level united to advance climate action on five fronts: cutting emissions, mobilizing money and markets, pricing carbon, strengthening resilience, and creating new coalitions. Global leaders from diverse sectors came together to announce bold commitments in eight action areas: agriculture, cities, energy, financing, forests, industry, resilience and transportation. The Summit also aimed to strengthening political will for a meaningful universal climate agreement at the Paris COP-21in 2015.

A very exciting grassroots action to curb climate change occurred in New York City two days before the Summit. It is estimated that over 300,000 people participated in the People’s Climate March on September 21. “Our citizens keep marching,” Obama said in his address at the Summit, “We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call.”

The one-day Summit focused on tangible climate actions. U.S. President Barack Obama promised to announce more aggressive targets on emissions reductions next year and the European Union committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels and pledged about $22 billion to the Green Climate Fund to aid developing nations. Later in the program, during a Private Sector Forum luncheon many companies announced their support for carbon regulatory policies, like carbon taxing and cap-and-trade programs. Six global energy firms signed onto the “Climate and Clean Air Coalition Oil and Gas Partnership” to reduce methane emissions.

The Summit has catalyzed the momentum for addressing climate change issues decisively and mobilized leaders across sectors to take action."

Promoting collaboration, local leaders pledged towards major carbon cuts in their cities. Compact of Mayors announced a plan to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 454 megatons by 2020. In addition, the World Bank and other initiatives, like the City Creditworthiness Partnership, will help the world’s cities to improve their financial management and strengthen their creditworthiness to attract investors.

The protection of forestlands was another major focus of the Summit. A public-private partnership pledged to cut deforestation to half by 2020 and end it by 2030. In support of the New York Declaration on Forests, a political agreement that calls for the restoration of forests and croplands, 20 global food companies, including Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme, announced their pledges to deforestation-free sourcing policies of palm oil. The Consumer Goods Forum, a coalition of 400 companies, called on governments to pass a legally binding climate deal in Paris in 2015 that would include large-scale payments to countries that reduce deforestation.

With respect to energy, two initiatives were publicized to boost low-carbon, renewable energy in Africa’s small island developing states. The Africa Clean Energy Corridor aims to expand the portion of renewable energy used by the Eastern and Southern Africa Power Pool and the Small Island Developing States Lighthouse Initiative will strengthen international cooperation and speed the development of low-carbon renewable energy resources.

‘Our citizens keep marching,’ Obama said in his address at the Summit, ‘we cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call.’

Various action plans announced at the Summit mobilized more than $200 billion to finance clean energy projects and support resilience among vulnerable nations. Obama promised the United States would lead a global effort to forge an international agreement next year that would require all countries to set emission targets by 2020 and provide upwards of $100 billion annually to help the poorest countries shift away from fossil fuels and adapt to warming temperature. France will commit $1 billion in the next few years to the Green Climate Fund. Forty companies, among them Kellogg, L’Oréal and Nestlé, signed a declaration to help cut tropical deforestation. Apple, Google and Facebook have made strong commitments to power their huge, electricity-hungry data centers with renewable power.

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim praised the unexpected partnerships that have come out of the summit. The green bond market has reached over $25 billion and will surpasses the goal of $10 billion that he had set in January 2014.

Although the Summit is not part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, it has added a new energy to the formal negotiation process. The Summit provided a valuable platform for world leaders to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for the new agreement in the first quarter of 2015. It also expanded the efforts to help poor countries adopt clean energy, which will contribute to the collaboration of the international community and ultimately help facilitate the negotiations surrounding a new climate strategy in Paris next year.

Notwithstanding the momentum Climate Summit has created, the absence of many prominent heads of state and government, including China’s President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Putin, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was a reflection of the hurdles that the international community has to yet to overcome on its way to the climate agreement at COP-21 in Paris 2015. As the world’s largest and third-largest carbon emitters respectively, China and India play critical roles in determining the fate of the global climate negotiations and their leaders’ absence reinforced the “North-South Divide” on the climate issue. India even expressed its dissatisfaction of starting a parallel negotiating platform beyond the UNFCCC.

Unquestionably, the Summit has provided a platform for new coalitions and has brought together both leaders and industries across the globe to not only recognize climate risks, but to work collaboratively toward a shared goal. It has catalyzed the momentum for addressing climate change issues decisively and mobilized leaders across sectors to take action. Despite the positive contribution of the Summit, it will be a big challenge to channel this momentum into action at all levels. The real test of this Summit will be on how much progress the COP-20 negotiation in Lima will make, and also if the international community will be able to sign for a meaningful global climate agreement at Paris during COP-21 in Paris in 2015.

Siqi Zhou is Program Coordinator at Global Energy Initiative

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