GP Insights

GP Insights # 154, 28 September 2019

The UN Climate Action Summit: No Action Plan yet
Rashmi Ramesh

What happened?

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the world leaders to deliberate upon the concerns of climate change and to spell out their concrete plans for reducing carbon emissions by 45 per cent over the next ten years. The primary focus was to enhance nationally determined contributions of the Paris Agreement to achieve a more sustainable world. The summit brought together, governments, non-state actors including NGOs, international organizations and business houses. The Secretary-General identified key areas which have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a large extent- energy transition, nature-based solutions, industry transition, cities and local action, climate finance and carbon pricing and resilience. 

The summit witnessed a plethora of speeches and announcements by heads of various countries who resolved to intensify their actions to fight the consequences of climate change. Five countries- the United States, Brazil, South Africa, Japan and Saudi Arabia were not allowed to express their views, due to their commitment to harnessing fossil fuel. There was also a youth summit where young climate activists were given a platform to express their perspectives on climate change and provide solutions. 

What is the background?

Climate change is indiscriminate and omnipresent. In recent years the world is seeing a higher number of climate-related disasters occurring across the world. The wildfires in Siberia, Brazilian Amazon, Indonesia; the disastrous cyclones/hurricanes in Bahamas, east coast of the United States, Arabian Sea; the polar vortex in the US are said to be necessary due to changes in the climatic conditions of the planet. 

There are numerous international conventions and agreements that have looked into this cause. Amongst them, the UN defines Paris Agreement to be a more realistic, visionary and viable document that if implemented, can bring about transformative changes. Moreover, the summit aimed at meeting the targets of the agreement through enhanced nationally determined contributions. 

What does it mean?

The UN Secretary-General said that he wished to hear action-oriented announcements from all the stakeholders. Undoubtedly this is ambitious and far-fetched because mitigation efforts also imply a transformation of the economies. The governments are then expected not to create differences in terms of opportunities, be fair enough to solve economic inequalities and ensure that there are haves and have nots or winners or losers. As noble, the idea seems, it is not very easy for governments to achieve this feat. This is particularly apt in cases of developing countries where there is a juggle between economic growth and climate concerns. 

Also, few countries would not be willing to transform their economies due to the plausible loss of revenue and the difficulty in finding alternatives. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is not very keen on giving up its status of being one of the largest crude oil producers of the world. Russia and the United States also fall in this category where they desire to exploit fossil fuels and export it. 

The summit again observed the difference of approach between smaller states and big powers. Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the Nordic countries, Germany, France and the United Kingdom pronounced stronger measures, while the big economies did not seem to make a mark at the summit. Civil society, through climate protests, ensured that it is heard well. However, these protests and sloganeering were limited to a few countries, mostly the developed world. Therefore, there is another concern about how people in different strata of countries perceive climate change. 

There was no uniformity in the views of the participants of the Climate Action Summit, very similar to all other climate-related summits. Nevertheless, it brought together all those states that had clear, viable, concrete plans to find solutions for this global problem. 


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