Here are the five most meaningful outcomes of the past week in New York.
With just two months to go until COP28 in Dubai, business and political leaders from around the globe descended on the Big Apple last week for the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and its partner event, Climate Week NYC.
While climate wasn’t the only thing on the agenda — the war in Ukraine loomed large — the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, did host a one-day climate summit to refocus leaders’ minds on the biggest challenge global society has ever faced.
Speaking at the summit, Guterres told the world that “humanity has opened the gates to hell” by heating the planet. He also lambasted those with fossil fuel interests for their “naked greed”.
By this point, however, strong words from Guterres are nothing new. After a record-smashing summer peppered with wildfires and other natural disasters, his increasingly dismayed narration often feels like it’s falling on deaf ears.
So, was this another week of meaningless rhetoric? Well, mostly, though not entirely. Here are five things from the past week that we at The Climate think you should know about.
1. Brazil sets more ambitious climate targets.
After four tumultuous years with anti-climate Jair Bolsonaro at the helm, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is back, and he’s sticking to his more planet-positive agenda.
To applause, Brazil’s environment minister, Marina Silva, announced the country was strengthening its emission reduction targets to 37-48% by 2025 and 50-53% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, Brazil committed to a decrease in emissions of 43% by 2030. Bolsonaro did increase that figure to 50%, but he also raised the 2005 baseline, so the new pledge was easier to meet than the old target.
The new goal puts Brazil’s ambition slightly ahead of the United States, despite the U.S.’s contributions to historical emissions being significantly greater.
2. Tens of thousands took to the street.
If politicians and corporate leaders appear indifferent to climate change, at least we can’t say the same about the people on the street.
Between 50,000 and 75,000 climate activists from all walks of life hit the streets of New York in a “march to end fossil fuels”. The crowd directed plenty of ire at U.S. President Joe Biden, who, despite passing the country’s most ambitious climate legislation to date — the Inflation Reduction Act — continues to administer new licences for oil and gas.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lit up the show, telling the protestors that the movement must become “too big and too radical to ignore”. You can watch her full speech here.
3. Colombia and Panama commit to phasing out coal.
Colombia, the world’s sixth-largest exporter of coal, and Panama joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), a “coalition of national and subnational governments, businesses and organisations working to advance the transition from unabated coal power generation to clean energy”.
Omar Andres Camacho, Colombia’s minister of energy and mines, said: “As coal power is on the way to becoming a thing of the past, we are working to reduce the economy’s reliance on coal. We are diversifying exports, expanding the production of renewable energy and planning for a just transition of affected communities. Thanks to the technical and financial support by PPCA members, we will make further progress on coal phase-out at the COP.”
Panama is already a carbon-negative country thanks to its abundance of renewable energy sources and natural carbon sinks. The government is seeking to further accelerate its clean energy transition by phasing out coal power generation by the end of this year.
4. 250 major organisations urged world leaders to commit to tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030.
Companies and organisations representing a market value of more than $12 trillion, responsible for the majority of global renewable energy deployment and from all six populated continents, published an open letter to world leaders calling for a target to triple renewable energy capacity to 11,000 GW by 2030. They want the target to be agreed at COP28 later this year.
Yes, it’s more words, but the sheer financial heft of the coalition initiated by the Global Renewables Alliance is worth paying heed to — their market value of $12 trillion is equivalent to the combined GDP of Japan, India and Germany.
Supporters and signatories of the letter include the corporate entities Adani, AES, Amazon, Apple, ERM, EY, Google, Huawei, Microsoft, Ørsted, PepsiCo, ReNew, Unilever and Vestas.
5. Cash for those facing the brunt of the climate crisis.
The Danish government announced it was increasing the capital available from its development finance institution to help tackle climate change in developing countries. The country’s contribution to climate financing will increase from €268 million a year in 2022 to between €670 and €940 million a year by 2030.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, said his government was “putting money where our mouth is” during a speech at the “financing climate justice” event. He announced a raft of measures, including £800,000 of funding to help the victims of Storm Freddy in Malawi, £5 million for a non-economic loss and damage programme and a further £1 million to address loss and damage through the Humanitarian Emergency Fund.
Cause for optimism?
After a month of regression on climate policy within the U.K., it is refreshing to see that on the global stage, other nations are ramping up their climate pledges. COP28 will conclude with a ‘global stocktake’ to consider how well the Paris Agreement is being implemented, and consider what further corrective action needs to be taken to stick to the target of keeping global warming within 1.5C. It is highly-likely to be a sobering moment. While the pledges made at Climate Week NYC are to be welcomed, we’re going to need a whole lot more still to come.