NEW YORK – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres convened a special summit on Wednesday in New York City designed to highlight the efforts of the most ambitious global leaders on climate policy – and to implicitly shame those who are dragging their feet.
Mr Guterres, who has made climate action a centrepiece of his agenda and has called on the world’s largest carbon emitters to rapidly shift away from burning fossil fuels, the main driver of global warming, pledged that only high-level leaders whom he sees as taking climate action seriously would be allowed to speak at the event.
That did not include the leaders of the world’s two biggest polluters, China and the United States.
“Climate action is dwarfed by the scale of the challenge,” Mr Guterres said in his opening remarks at the summit. “We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”
The Climate Ambition Summit, as the event was called, was held on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly and included leaders of countries, states, cities and companies, and coincided with a UN Security Council meeting on the war in Ukraine, which for a second year has dominated the assembly’s agenda.
The summit was a nod by Mr Guterres to increasing frustration from smaller and poorer countries that the war has been distracting richer nations from pledges they have made to help developing countries, most of which bear little responsibility for the emissions warming the planet, manage the risks of climate change and transition to renewable energy.
“I hope that, in the same way we can take Ukraine seriously in the Security Council, we can talk climate change there, too,” said Ms Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, who has been one of the most outspoken world leaders on climate issues. “This is, in fact, a greater threat because more lives are at stake globally.”
Of the world’s four biggest emitters, only the European Union was invited to speak at the summit. Top leaders from China and India, which are also the world’s most populous countries, did not attend the UN meetings this week at all, let alone the climate meeting, furthering a sense that the world body is facing a crisis of confidence under the weight of cascading global emergencies.
Despite its emphasis on ambition, the summit yielded few new concrete pledges. Canada and some EU countries said they would either allocate more of their budgets to climate finance in the developing world, or reallocate special access they had to funds from international lending institutions to poorer countries.
The only official from the United States invited to speak was Governor Gavin Newsom of California, who has signed a slew of climate measures and recently announced that California would sue Big Oil, accusing the industry of years of disinformation campaigns.
Mr Newsom’s speech drew the loudest applause, presumably because it did what many others studiously did not: It confronted fossil fuel producers.