Sep 23, 2019

The big pledges from the UN climate summit

Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/Getty Images

Today's UN summit and the past 2 days are bringing fresh pledges by countries and corporations as the UN warns that the world faces warming levels that vastly exceeds the Paris agreement targets.

Why it matters: Secretary-General António Guterres warned Monday, "Science tells us that on our current path, we face at least 3-degrees Celsius of global heating by the end of the century."

Where it stands: The 2015 Paris deal calls for holding eventual warming below 2°C and includes a more ambitious target of 1.5°C.

What they're saying: “The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win,” he said in a statement.

What's new: Here's a sampling of steps announced Monday and over the weekend:

  • The UN said "many" countries are using the summit to preview plans to update their Paris agreement pledges "with the aim to collectively reduce emissions by at least 45 percent by 2030."
  • Expansion of the 2-year-old "Powering Past Coal Alliance" of nations pledging to phase out coal and stop building new plants.
  • A bunch of huge multinationals — including L'Oréal, Nestle, Salesforce and Swiss Re — has signed onto a coalition of companies pledging to set targets "aligned" with 1.5°C and net-zero emissions by 2050.
  • The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a coalition of oil giants, rolled out plans Monday to bolster deployment of carbon capture systems.
  • "Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government on Friday agreed to support a $60 billion package of climate policies aimed at getting Germany back on track to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030," NYT reports.

But, but, but: It'll be impossible to gauge the summit's efficacy for a long time. That's because the big question is how much the pledges translate into real policy implementation, financial flows and changes in corporate behavior.

Go deeper: UN press release on shifting the global response on the climate crisis.

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The new generational war

Greta Thunberg. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

A decade after millennials' hopes and dreams faded with the Great Recession, Generation Z is taking to the streets to proclaim climate change their era's defining issue.

Driving the news: In New York, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg confronted world leaders Monday: "I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to [us] for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words."

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UN report: Climate change causes and impacts are increasing

Children on melting ice at the climate-change impacted illage of Napakiak on the Yukon Delta in Alaska in April. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

As world leaders gather in New York City for the United Nations Climate Action Summit Monday, a UN report warns climate change is accelerating — with the Earth on track for the warmest 5-year period on record.

"Climate change causes and impacts are increasing rather than slowing down. Sea level rise has accelerated and we are concerned that an abrupt decline in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, which will exacerbate future rise. As we have seen this year with tragic effect in the Bahamas and Mozambique, sea level rise and intense tropical storms led to humanitarian and economic catastrophes."
— World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas
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The UN climate summit highlighted a massive divide

Photo credits, clockwise from top left: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images; Amy Harder/Axios; Stephanie Keith/Getty Images; Viewpress

Dueling plotlines dominated the UN climate summit: Newly revealed ambition from countries and companies, and palpable anguish — distilled in teen activist Greta Thunberg's speech — that it's not nearly enough.

The big picture: The summit brought a burst of new commitments and initiatives. These include dozens of nations pledging to strengthen their plans under the Paris deal, new commitments to the multilateral Green Climate Fund, and asset managers committing to carbon neutral portfolios by 2050.

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