Climate Change

UN Climate Ambition Summit 2023: Who’s leading the charge?

Topics like Loss and Damage Fund, fossil fuel phaseout and $100-billion climate finance promise remain inconspicuous

By Tamanna Sengupta, Khushboo Pareek
Published: Friday 22 September 2023
Photo: @UN / X (previously Twitter)

The United Nations Climate Ambition Summit (CAS) hosted by Secretary General Antonio Guterres was held on September 20, 2023 in New York to accelerate climate action in the run up to the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Only “first movers and doers” were invited to speak at the CAS — countries, institutions, and organisations that have shown climate leadership. Speakers touched on a range of topics including calls for phasing out fossil fuels — the “root” of the climate crisis — on the heels of a historic protest against fossil fuel expansion in New York.

The United States, China and India were among those without an invitation to speak. The countries, however, were already part of a list of key nations set to miss the summit altogether. Perhaps the most stark absence was that of the United Kingdom Prime Minister, who parallelly announced a possible rollback of climate policies, threatening the country’s Net Zero goal.

Updated climate goals

Brazil’s announcement of reinstating its original 2015 nationally determined contributions (NDC) is welcome, given that the 2020 targets set by the country’s former President were misleading with questionable baselines. 

Almost a decade since the original NDC was announced, Brazil will now need to propose more ambitious measures to curb its emissions and look towards a just transition away from fossil fuels. 

Among others, Nepal announced a revised target of achieving Net Zero emissions by 2045 instead of 2050, Thailand expressed its determination to be Net Zero by 2050 and Portugal announced a goal to be carbon neutral by 2045, instead of 2050.

While more countries reaffirmed their commitment to climate ambition targets, the Global Stocktake report has warned that the world is off-track in achieving the 1.5 degrees Celsius target. The final political phase of the Stocktake at COP28 is expected to lead to more ambitious NDCs by 2025.

Climate finance, including Loss and Damage

At the G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi this year, the UK and South Korea announced replenishment of the Green Climate Fund of $2 billion and $300 million, respectively. 

Other countries also pledged replenishments, like Spain (€225 million or approximately $240 million), Germany (€2 billion or $2.13 billion), Iceland ($5.6 billion) and Slovakia (€2.2 million or $2.34 million).

The shadow of the still unfulfilled promise of $100 billion loomed large, although Germany has said the target will be met this year. When finance has come in, it has largely come as loans, increasing debt distress for developing countries and their mistrust in the Global North. 

All this while developed countries increased pressure on emerging economies for more ambitious targets. 

Moreover, the recent Global Stocktake report explicitly mentions that a lack of adaptation will irreversibly erode human development gains. Despite this, speeches specifically mentioning adaptation were limited to Global South calls for doubling adaptation finance.

Commitments to the Loss and Damage Fund (LDF), established at COP27 in Egypt, remained even more inconspicuous. Apart from Austria and Spain, no references were made to financing the LDF. 

The CAS invitation extended to Germany and France as “first movers and doers” seems to have overlooked their calls to limit the LDF’s primary beneficiaries to certain countries, excluding countries such as Pakistan and Libyaa divide and conquer tactic

The push from developed nations to host the LDF under the World Bank also raises concerns, given the Bank’s history in misreporting climate finance. The impact of the CAS statements on the operationalisation of the LDF will now be seen at the fourth and final Transitional Committee meeting in October.

Fossil fuels 

The explicit mention of the coal phaseout overshadowed that of “all fossil fuels”, which include oil and gas. At COP27, India’s suggestion to call for the phasedown of “all fossil fuels” and not just coal was omitted in the final document

Such a move fails to hold oil and gas producers like the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia accountable for their continued dependence on fossil fuels — both in production and consumption. COP28 delivering language targeting “all fossil fuels” this year seems like a distant prospect. 

At the CAS, Canada, who was one of the largest expanders of fossil fuels last year, announced the development of an emissions cap framework for the oil and gas sector. The country was also one of the top five “Planet Wreckers” named in a recent report, on track to lead 51 per cent of oil and gas explorations by 2050 with the US, Australia, Norway and UK. 

Omitting oil and gas from COP28 decision texts waters down accountability from these historical polluters to lead fossil fuel phaseouts.

Other announcements

The European Union and Canada emphasised the call for covering at least 60 per cent of global emissions by carbon pricing. The EU stated that the current carbon pricing mechanisms cover only 23 per cent of global emissions and generates $95 billion, presenting prospects of new revenue.

In another development, Germany announced the launch of the International Climate Club, which it will co-chair with Chile, aiming to decarbonise industrial sectors and scale up green growth. Whether or not climate clubs will benefit developing countries still remains to be seen.

The CAS presented itself as an opportunity to build momentum on debates, demands and progress ahead of COP28. Topics like the LDF and fossil fuel phaseout that have long been in contention are expected to be at the forefront of negotiations. The CAS offers a glimpse into the same.

Khushboo Pareek is Intern with the Climate Change Programme at CSE; MSc student in Environmental Governance at the University of Freiburg, Germany

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