Sep 14, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The fraught sprint to the UN climate summit

Illustration of a hand holding a stop watch with the Earth inside its face.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The scramble is intensifying to lay the groundwork for achieving tangible results at a key United Nations climate summit just seven weeks away.

Driving the news: UN Secretary-General António Guterres and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will convene a heads-of-state-level gathering Monday on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

  • The meeting "will address the gaps that remain on the actions urgently needed from national governments — especially the G20 — on mitigation, finance and adaptation," a UN advisory states.

Of note: Reuters reported Monday night that the U.S. and European Union are seeking to unveil a joint pledge to cut emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by one-third by 2030.

  • The story calls it an effort to "galvanize other major economies" ahead of the November summit in Glasgow, Scotland. The White House did not confirm the Reuters story to Axios.

Why it matters: The reported methane deal and UN meeting are the latest signs of the diplomatic scramble ahead of a summit where success is not guaranteed.

  • U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry and Alok Sharma, the U.K.'s top climate diplomat, have both visited China — by far the world's largest emitter — this month for talks.
  • Kerry went to India, the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter after the U.S., this week. All eyes will also be on the G20 heads of state meeting in late October.

Threat level: The run-up to the summit, called COP26, has been rocky.

  • A G20 meeting in July ended without agreement on a phase-out in domestic coal-fired power generation or funding for such plants abroad by nations including China, the world's biggest coal user.
  • It's also not clear whether developed countries will make good on a longstanding pledge to mobilize $100 billion per year to help other nations fight climate change.

The big picture: The summit comes as global emissions are rebounding from the pandemic alongside the use of coal and oil.

  • The International Energy Agency projects that global oil demand will exceed pre-pandemic levels in the second half of next year, while OPEC yesterday estimated that 2022 demand will surpass 2019 on a full-year basis.

Yes, but: Despite the Biden administration's diplomatic efforts, the U.S. ability to make good on its own emissions-cutting pledges is unclear, with much of that left up to Congress.

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