12 December 2020

Live coverage of the Climate Ambition Summit 2020, an important step forward in the battle against the climate crisis, with several major economies announcing new commitments to cut their carbon footprints and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What is the Climate Action Summit?

UN Secretary-General declares "state of climate emergency"

What is net zero?

What comes next?

The sprint begins

Ethiopia has undertaken a major national reforestation programme in 2020, with the ambitious target of planting four billion trees. , by Unsplash/Eyoel Abraham Kahssay

The Climate Action Summit has ended, and some 70 Heads of State, along with regional and city leaders, and heads of major businesses, have delivered a raft of new measures, policies and plans, aimed at making a big dent in greenhouse gas emissions, and ensuring that the warming of the planet is limited to 1.5C. The number of countries coming forward with strengthened national climate plans (NDCs) grew significantly today, with commitments covering some of the world's biggest emitters on display.

The UK, which is hosting next year’s UN Climate Conference, announced that it will cut emissions by 68 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, within the next five years, and the European Union bloc committed to a 55 per cent cut over the same time period.

At least 24 countries announced new commitments, strategies or plans to reach carbon neutrality, and a number of states set out how they are going even further, with ambitious dates to reach net zero: Finland by 2035, Austria by 2040 and Sweden by 2045.

Pakistan announced that it’s scrapping plans for new coal power plants, India will soon more than double its renewable energy target, and China committed to increasing the share of non-fossil fuel in primary energy consumption to around 25% by 2030.. This link will take you to the Summit press release, with full details of the commitments made today.

These announcements are a sign that there is real momentum as we head towards the next big step on the road to carbon neutrality, the COP26 UN Climate Conference, in November 2021. UN News will continue to report on the the fight against the climate crisis, up to and beyond COP26 and, for more features, news stories, interviews and more, you can look through our archive, which you will find here.

12:25

What comes next?

The largely power self-sufficient Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) towers in Milan, Italy, provide an insight into the future of sustainable living., by Unsplash/Jann And

The Summit has been labelled as the starting gun for the “the sprint to Glasgow”, referring to the delayed UN Climate Conference (COP26) which is scheduled to be held in the Scottish city in November 2021. The year-long sprint is a push for countries to announce even more ambitious and wide-ranging plans to curb emissions and make their economies “greener” and more sustainable.

The virus wrought economic havoc on the world but, with the release of COVID-19 vaccines expected in 2021, economies will begin opening up, and the UN is spearheading attempts to ensure that the world will “build back better”, rather than returning to a fossil-fuel dependent business as usual.

For more on the UN’s vision for a cleaner future, check out the climate change website, which outlines some of the ways that the world should rebuild, with six climate-positive actions, including investments in sustainable jobs and businesses, ending bailouts for polluting industries and fossil-fuel subsidies, including climate risks and opportunities in all financial and policy decisions.

We are going to pause our coverage of the Summit for now, but we will be back later today to wrap up the event, with a summary of the commitments made by world leaders today. You can continue to watch the event live on UN Web TV.

11:30

Saving the coral

Coral Reef Image Bank/Matt Curno
Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

Over the year, we’ve been finding out how people are responding to the climate change. In June, we heard from the head of a team of researchers in Hawaii, pioneering new techniques to preserve living coral, and ultimately save the biodiversity and genetic diversity of coral reefs across the world.

Mary Hagedorn told UN News that one of the biggest threats to coral reefs is the warming of the oceans, which makes them more acidic, and prevents the coral from absorbing the calcium carbonate that they need to grow.

You can read the full story here.

11:00

Champions of the Earth

The six winners of the UN’s highest environmental award, the Champions of the Earth, were announced on Friday, honouring some of the world’s most dynamic environmental leaders, from pioneering scientists and captains of industry to heads of state and community activists.

These inspiring individuals include Robert Bullard, the “Father of Environmental Justice”, who has been advocating for racial equality and fair environmental and urban planning for over four decades; indigenous rights activist and environmental activist, Nemonte Nenquimo, of the Waorani people of Pastaza in Ecuador, who took the Ecuadorian government to court, for offering huge areas of Amazonian rainforest to oil companies; and veterinarian Dr. Fabian Leendertz, a zoonotics disease specialist, whose ground-breaking investigations into pathogens like Anthrax and Ebola have explored how the contagions jump between animals and humans.

10:45

Private sector acting ‘urgently and decisively’

More electric vehicles on the road will mean less pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. , by Ford

The private sector is also being called on to play a global role in fighting climate change, and representatives from some high profile businesses and financial organizations are taking part in the Summit, including the CEO of tech company Apple.

The UN Global Compact supports companies around the world to operate in a socially and environmentally responsible way and that includes coming up with innovative solutions to build prosperity without harming the planet.

“The climate emergency has led CEOs to act urgently and decisively to set science-based emissions reduction targets for their companies in line with a 1.5°C pathway”, says Sanda Ojiambo, the Executive Director of the Global Compact.

“The movement to transition to a net-zero economy by 2050 is also growing rapidly, and we call on all business leaders to adopt concrete plans to realize this goal.”

10:30

Zero Hour

A person carrying a red sun brolly walks through a solar panel farm in France., by Maxime Pontoire

If the number of leaders from around the world attending the summit, albeit virtually, is an indication of its importance, then this could be a very significant moment for global action to slow climate change.

Apart from summit co-conveners, the UK, France and the UN, in the first 90 minutes alone, the event is hearing from the presidents of Chile, Italy, China, Kenya, Colombia, the prime ministers of Barbados, Pakistan and Canada, as well as leaders of the European Union and His Holiness Pope Francis. In total, around 80 leaders, civil society and private sector representatives, UN officials and youth and indigenous activists are due to speak.

You’ve probably heard the term "net zero" bandied around a few times in this speeches, but what does it actually mean? Well, to help explain, we have produced a primer on the ins and outs of net zero, and why it is so important.

Put simply, net zero means we are not adding new emissions to the atmosphere. Emissions will continue, but will be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. The term is becoming a global rallying cry, frequently cited as a necessary step to successfully beat back climate change, and the devastation it is causing.

You can read the full story here.

10:15

Anger of a young climate warrior

Youth activists were invited to speak at the Summit, including Selina Neirok Leem, who, five years ago, was the youngest delegate to address the 2015 UN Climate Conference, COP21, where the landmark Paris Climate Agreement was adopted. Back then, Ms. Leem, from the Marshall Islands, which are bearing the brunt of climate change, made a passionate plea to global leaders for stronger action on climate change.

At today’s event, Ms. Leem, described as a climate warrior, noted that the very survival of her home is threatened by climate change and that, since Paris, temperatures have continued to rise, forest fires have continued to rage, and glaciers are still melting.

Ms. Leem said that, even though she successfully fought for the 1.5C “lifeline” to be included in the Paris Agreement, she remains angry and disappointed at the slow pace of change.

09:50

The activism of youth

Sophia Kianni is an 18-year-old climate and environmental activist from the United States, by Joe Hobbs

As you may have seen from reports in the press, climate activist Greta Thunberg is not very impressed by the lack of speed with which climate action measures are being implemented by world leaders (see 08:15 update).

Her example has inspired many young people, worldwide, to follow her example and launch initiatives and projects to raise greater awareness of the issues around climate change. 18-year-old Sophia Kianni is one of seven young people selected to participate in the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, which aims to engage young people in “an open and transparent dialogue” about climate issues. She wants the UN to do more to engage young people, and encourage them to become activists.

“Ultimately, I am optimistic that we can reverse climate change, but no matter how much I or other individuals do on a personal level, it is really up to the government to pass comprehensive climate legislation”, she says. “The younger generation is more progressive so I am hopeful in the future we will be able to elect more politicians who care about climate change issues, and who will pass aggressive legislation."

Read the full story here.

09:45

A ‘Green Industrial Revolution’

The co-convener of this event is the UK, which is hosting the 2021 UN Climate Conference. The country’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said that this difficult year ends with a note of optimism, thanks to the unprecedented speed with which a vaccine has been produced, thanks to international efforts.

This shows, said Mr. Johnson, that science can be used to protect the entire planet against climate change, by the “promethean power of invention” against the disaster of global warming. The Prime Minister declared that a “green industrial revolution” will create millions of high-skilled, high-quality jobs, and that the country is planning to become the “Saudi Arabia of wind power”.

09:15

‘State of Climate Emergency’

The UN Secretary-General kicked off proceedings, with a speech that echoed many of the themes he covered earlier in the month, and declaring a State of Climate Emergency, until carbon neutrality has been reached worldwide. The central objective of the UN in 2021, he said, will be to build a truly global coalition for carbon neutrality by the middle of the century.

Ending on a positive note, Mr. Guterres noted that more countries are committing to zero emissions, cities are becoming more liveable, and mindsets are shifting in the right way. “Let’s stop the assault on our planet”, he implored, “and do what we need to guarantee the future of our children and grandchildren”.

You can read the full speech here.

09:00

The Climate Ambition Summit, has begun! Stick with us (keep hitting refresh!) for regular updates on what’s happening and, just as importantly, why it’s taking place. You can also watch the whole thing live on UN WebTV.

As this video makes clear, although COVID-19 stopped many things over this year, it hasn’t stopped climate change, which is more relentless than the virus.

08:45

‘Growing force and fury’

Nisarga Cyclone, India, by District Collector's Office, Raigad, India

There have been some encouraging signs of progress in the fight against climate change (see 08:30 update), December has brought some sobering reminders of the scale of the problem facing world leaders.

The first two weeks of the month have seen a flurry of UN-backed climate reports, a mammoth dump of worrying data, bolstering the UN’s argument for urgent, effective and transformational action to avoid a catastrophic, irreversible rise in the Earth’s temperature.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released its State of the Climate report, on 2 December, which showed that this decade is set to be the warmest on record, and that the relentless rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will fuel temperature rises for years to come.

On the same day, the Production Gap Report, and its companion Emissions Gap report found that countries plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with a 1.5-degree Celsius temperature limit urged more investments in climate action as part of COVID-19 recovery plans.

And, also on 2 December, UN chief António Guterres referred to the reports in an excoriating speech, delivered at New York’s Columbia University, in which he described the “growing force and fury”, with which nature is reacting to humanity’s mishandling of the environment, leading to a collapse in biodiversity, growing desertification, and record ocean temperatures.

The answer, said Mr. Guterres, is to flick the “green switch”, transforming the world economy, and building a sustainable system driven by renewable energy, green jobs and a resilient future. Expect to hear much more this morning about the solutions that national governments are proposing.

 

 

 

08:30

Welcome cuts

Solar power is key to reaching net zero goals, by UN Kenya/Neil Thomas

Over the last year, some eye-catching commitments have been made by some of the world’s leading economies and we expect more today. On the eve of the summit, the European Union agreed to cut greenhouse gases across the bloc by at least 55 per cent by the end of the decade compared with 1990 levels, and countries representing more than 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70 per cent of the world economy, are preparing to make ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality.

In all, around 110 countries have pledged carbon neutrality, or “net zero” by 2050; China says it will do so before 2060. There is widespread agreement that reaching carbon neutrality is essential, if we are to beat climate change, and curb the devastation it is causing.

08:15

‘You have failed us’

This summit comes just over a year after the similarly-named Climate Action Summit, at which teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg delivered a stinging rebuke to politicians. “You are failing us” she said, “but the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you, and if you choose to fail us, I say, we will never forgive you."

Ahead of today’s event, Ms. Thunberg released a new video which demonstrated that her anger is undimmed, arguing that the world is “speeding in the wrong direction”, and calling for immediate action, rather than the setting of “distant hypothetical targets”.

08:00

What is the Climate Ambition Summit?

Good morning from New York, and welcome to our live blog of the UN’s Climate Ambition Summit, which is taking place five years after the adoption of the landmark Paris Climate Agreement. 2020 has been dominated by the fight against COVID-19 but, as the year comes to an end, the UN is reminding us that the climate crisis is the issue that threatens the future of the planet, and mankind.

The event brings together leaders from across all levels of government, as well as the private sector and civil society, to present more ambitious and high-quality climate commitments, and measures to limit global warming to 1.5C.

This morning we’ll bring you excerpts from the speeches, and put the commitments into context, starting with a handy reminder of what the Agreement is all about (you can read more here) :

 

 

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News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

‘Green recovery’ from COVID-19 can slow climate change: UN environment report

Despite a brief dip in global carbon dioxide emissions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the planet is still heading for a global temperature rise in excess of 3 degrees Celsius this century, a new United Nations report has revealed. 

Developing countries raise climate ambitions to plot path out of pandemic

Developing countries are building more ambitious plans to tackle climate change, with COVID-19 stimulus packages often serving as a springboard towards a greener recovery, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said on Tuesday.