UN Climate Summit: What To Expect and Why it Matters


On September 23, world leaders from government, business, finance and civil society will gather in New York City—at the invitation of the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon—to attend the UN Climate Summit 2014.

The aim of the Summit is to secure widespread commitment to increasing action on climate change and to build ambition among key country leadership ahead of pivotal negotiations at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris, in December 2015. In Paris, countries are widely expected to build upon their respective domestic climate plans and activities with the aim of developing a new international deal to address climate change from the year 2020 forward. The litmus test for this agreement will be whether the world changes paths to keep the goal—avoiding catastrophic climate change by limiting warming to below 2°C—within reach.  The Climate Summit will preview political appetite for such a course correction.

World leaders that attend the Summit in New York City and declare their personal commitment to the hoped-for Paris agreement will be signaling their political intentions, putting their credibility on the line and setting the stage for more ambitious national actions in the year ahead. President Obama and Secretary Kerry have already committed to attend, along with heads of state from Bangladesh, Denmark, Peru, the European Union, France, and Mexico. China and India are also expected to attend, with many more countries likely to commit in upcoming weeks. At the Summit, national leaders will have the opportunity to announce their current and planned climate actions and to showcase recent progress on combating climate change and promoting clean energy.

Once a laggard on climate change, the United States’ recent domestic progress has helped the country pivot into a new leadership role in international climate discussions. Implementation of President Obama’s climate action plan is well underway, and the administration is likely to highlight the EPA standards for vehicles and power plants as exemplary and effective policy tools for reducing emissions. Though it is clear that more robust action is needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change, countries will be eager to showcase new and ongoing country and sector initiatives to reduce carbon pollution and secure their position in an increasingly competitive clean energy market.

Leaders from government, finance, business, and civil society will discuss challenges and opportunities in eight action areas that are critical for keeping global temperature increases to less than 2°C. There will also be concurrent thematic discussions on innovative climate policies and practices. These events are an opportunity to scope the global breadth and depth of countries’ interest in scaling up their efforts and working together to implement a cohesive international solution to the challenge of climate change.

There are also events happening outside the official UN meetings in support of the Summit. On September 21, tens of thousands of people will gather in New York City to participate in the People’s Climate March, a major mobilization of individuals and civil society groups marching to demand bold, political action on climate change. The March reflects another changing reality—increased public awareness of the costs of climate change and increased growing support for a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. The Summit will also be the focus of this year’s Climate Week NYC, which will feature over 60 events occurring throughout the week surrounding the Climate Summit.

To learn more about the Summit, its participants and agenda, please visit: http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/

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