UN Climate Ambition Summit: Agreements, Absences, and Aspirations

Photo via Axios


In the wake of a raging climate crisis, the top emitters of global greenhouse gasses (GHG) remain quiet amidst conversations held by the rest of the world. On Wednesday, September 20, world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit to discuss the recent climate findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and what pathways nations can take to mitigate inevitable disaster. The three largest global GHG emitters, the United States, China, and India, were not invited to speak by the Secretary General of the UN. These nations, comprising 63.4% of global fossil fuel consumption and 61.6% of global GHG emissions, have not only demonstrated lack of action, but have seen an increase in emissions from 2021 to 2022.

In December, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterrez made it clear when announcing the summit that it would be comprised of “movers and do-ers,” and expressed no tolerance for “back-sliders, greenwashers, blame-shifters or repackaging of announcements of previous years.” The required urgency of climate action highlighted in the IPCC report detailed the adverse impact climate change has continuously had across the globe. These devastating effects include increased food and water scarcity, climate-related food and water-borne diseases, economic damage, and destruction of infrastructure and homes, leaving many people without homes or careers. 

The speakers list at the Climate Ambition Summit consisted of groups and world leaders whose populations are at high risk for climate-related destruction, as well as showcasing the first to advance the UN’s global decarbonization and climate justice goals. The participating countries at the summit agreed that the necessary precautions to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C, as proposed in the Paris Agreement, is still possible with accelerated policy action and international cooperation. Suggested policies to achieve this goal include: phasing out and eliminating coal, gas and oil expansion; terminating fossil fuel subsidies; instating caps on oil and gas emissions; and facilitating an equitable transition to renewable energy systems. 

While the summit was successful in many regards—achieving a stronger sense of international unity between attending nations, launching new partnerships (Tuvalu-Australia and Dominican Republic-Spain), and reinforcing financial/political commitments (reaching the US $100 billion goal, sponsoring the Green Climate Fund, etc.)—the absence of the major GHG contributors raises questions about the feasibility of reaching the necessary checkpoints before irreversible damage occurs.

Alongside China’s rapid and relatively recent emergence as a powerful actor in the global market, the country has seen a sharp increase in GHG emissions. As a result, the country has suffered from record high temperatures, extreme droughts, and heavy rainfall. Despite these adverse consequences, China maintains a conservative approach to climate change policy, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060 and prioritizing adaptation over mitigation in terms of their CO2 emissions.

India has faced climate-induced heatwaves, floods, and monsoons that pose significant risks to the country’s economy and population. Studies have estimated the costs of climate-related damages in India will reach to 35 trillion USD over the next 50 years. Even with these alarming risks, India was responsible for the largest increase in GHG in 2022 (5%) and plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2070.

The United States is the second highest GHG emitter globally, but unlike India and China, cannot attribute its reliance on fossil fuels on its relatively recent economic development. The high CO2 emissions are not due to a lack of funds/infrastructure to transition to greener energy sources, but rather a combination of partisanship, corporate greed, fossil fuel subsidies, and consumerism. The Biden administration made many promises of climate change reduction, but the trajectory of U.S. emissions goals is not clear. 

UN Secretary General Guterrez’s decision to not include the top GHG contributors in the Climate Ambition Summit is unsurprising considering the summit’s theme of integrity and the lack of commitment demonstrated by the three countries’ climate policy. However, it does present the question of whether cooperation from the rest of the world will be enough to offset the damage done. In his opening statement, Guterrez states that “poorest nations have every right to be angry, angry that they are suffering most from a climate crisis they did not seem to create”.

Though the situation is grim, the cooperation demonstrated at the Climate Ambition Summit shines hope for a new era of action and unity from the international community. This winter, the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Dubai will either solidify and affirm the promises made or present the need for a reevaluation of climate change policies worldwide.


This article was edited by Alexa Davidson and Skylar Harris.