UN, Britain plan online climate summit in December

A handout photo made available by UN photo shows Volkan Bozkir (at left), President of the seventy-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations, in New York, New York, USA, 21 September 2020. [EPA-EFE/Eskinder Debebe]

The United Nations and Britain will host an online climate summit in December, the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, in a last-ditch bid to have countries meet a deadline to upgrade their emissions-cutting pledges.

The aim is to inject momentum into global efforts to combat climate change, after this year’s planned UN climate summit in Glasgow was postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the online summit on 12 December would be “an important moment to continue raising climate ambition.”

Guterres also urged big emitters like China and the European Union – both of which announced tougher climate targets this month – to follow up on those commitments with concrete plans and policies.

China's carbon neutral pledge could curb global warming by 0.3°C, researchers say

President Xi Jinping’s pledge that China will achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 is the most significant climate policy move for years and, if achieved, could curb likely global warming by 0.2-0.3 Celsius this century, researchers said.

Nearly 200 signatories to the Paris Agreement pledged to update their 2015 commitments before the end of 2020, but no large emitters have formally submitted new pledges to the UN.

On 4 November, the United States is set to become the only signatory to exit the agreement after President Donald Trump announced his intention to quit in his first year in office.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that Britain was “going flat out” to upgrade its Paris climate pledge, but he gave no date for when it would be unveiled.

Countries’ existing pledges would result in global warming far beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Scientists say this much warming would unleash catastrophic impacts including debilitating heat waves, severe flooding and steep sea-level rise.

Averting this would require rapid action by governments to wean the global economy off fossil fuels, delegates said on Thursday. Vulnerable countries also say they need financial help to adapt to the climate-related devastation already on their doorsteps.

“We need solidarity we can see, reductions in emissions we can measure, and resources vulnerable nations can afford to access now,” said Fiji Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama.

The scale of ambition unveiled at the December summit may rest on the results of the  US presidential election on 3 November. Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, has made urgent climate action a pillar of his campaign and has vowed to recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement if elected.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s surprise announcement this week to the General Assembly that China will commit to reach carbon neutrality before 2060 could also galvanise action by other countries ahead of December.

The online summit will take place a day after EU leaders meet in hopes of clinching a deal on a more ambitious 2030 climate target for the 27-country bloc.

'We can do it!': EU chief announces 55% emissions reduction target for 2030

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced plans on Wednesday (16 September) to target a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as part of a broader European Green Deal programme aimed at reaching “climate neutrality” by mid-century.

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