Updated Feb 2, 2024 - Energy & Environment

"Torrents, not trickles": UN climate chief's vision for COP29

Photo illustration of executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Simon Stiell in front of a collage of money and climate-related imagery

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Fadel Dawod/Getty Images

The UN's next climate summit will be an "enabling COP," focused on drastically scaling up climate finance and making bold emissions reduction commitments.

Why it matters: Top UN climate official Simon Stiell delivered a speech this morning in Baku, Azerbaijan, envisioning what will happen if the world meets the climate challenge and avoids devastating impacts of climate change.

Zoom in: The speech, delivered at ADA University, counters perceptions in some parts of the climate community that Baku will involve lower stakes and more technical work than COP28 did in Dubai.

  • Stiell instead makes clear how much work needs to be done to finance the transition away from fossil fuels to reliable forms of renewables in both industrialized and developing nations.
  • "Without far more finance, 2023's climate wins will quickly fizzle away into more empty promises," Stiell said. "We need torrents, not trickles, of climate finance."
  • The money message was delivered loudly in Dubai, but countries like the U.S. committed little in the way of public financing, given the political realities in Congress.
  • John Podesta, set to take over from John Kerry as top U.S. climate diplomat, will face similar limitations in Baku.

By the numbers: Stiell said multilateral development banks and the private sector need to collectively raise and direct $2.4 trillion annually for climate mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage funding.

  • The official outlined what the world would look like in 2030 and 2050 should everything go right: emissions reduced to meet the Paris Agreement targets, a massive financial boost, and a completely transformed energy system.

Reality check: In so doing, he demonstrates what an Olympian task lies ahead, given the current pace of energy transition by companies and governments.

The intrigue: The speech marks a departure in style and rhetoric for Stiell, whose role is to serve as a neutral broker who pushes the UN climate process forward.

  • He can nudge countries and set the table for ambitious actions. He is limited in his abilities to advocate for specific policies or implement them.
  • The remarks and their high-profile rollout signal Stiell seeks to play a more prominent role on the road to COPs 29 and 30, seeing those two years as a make-or-break period.

What he's saying: "The action we take in the next two years will shape how much climate-driven destruction we can avoid over the next two decades, and far beyond," Stiell said.

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