”I want to hear about how we are going to stop the increase in emissions by 2020, and dramatically reduce emissions to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.” This was the invitation from the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to all leaders to come to New York on the 23rd of September with “concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050”. And the world leaders arrived-the PMs, the heads of states and the upper echelons of the business world. And their words were scrutinized by the youth leaders who came to express their fears and concerns. So, what did these leaders promise?

The political commitments

The Prime Ministers of all world’s governments arrived in New York to take part in the Climate Acton Summit. After discussing the current state of affairs regarding climate change, the political leaders made the following commitments:

  • France announced that it would not enter into any trade agreement with countries that have policies counter to the Paris Agreement.
  • Germany committed to carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • 12 countries made financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund, the official financial mechanism to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change. This is in addition to recent announcements from Norway, Germany, France and the United Kingdom who have recently doubled their present contributions.
  • The United Kingdom made a major additional contribution, doubling its overall international climate finance to £11.6 billion for the period from 2020 to 2025.
  • India pledged to increase renewable energy capacity to 175GW by 2022 and committed to further increasing to 450GW and announced that 80 countries have joined the International Solar Alliance.
  • China said it would pursue a path of high-quality growth and low-carbon development and announced a partnership that could potentially unlock up to 12 billion tons of global emissions reductions and removals annually through nature-based solutions.
  • The European Union announced at least 25% of the next EU budget will be devoted to climate related activities.
  • The Russian Federation announced that they will ratify the Paris Agreement, bringing the total number of countries that have joined the Agreement to 187.
  • Pakistan said it would plant more than 10 billion trees over the next five years.

It could be said that some of these promises are a good base for concrete and feasible plans, but how the countries will achieve a carbon free future has not been laid out in details. Will they make bold political decisions to abandon all fossil fuels? Still, there was not a single promise on that.

Business leaders’ promises

Corporate business leaders joined political leaders in making promises to take brave actions in order to help the world combat climate change:

  • A group of the world’s largest asset-owners – responsible for directing more than $2 trillion in investments – committed to move to carbon-neutral investment portfolios by 2050.
  • 87 major companies with a combined market capitalization of over US$ 2.3 trillion pledged to reduce emissions and align their businesses with what scientists say is needed to limit the worst impacts of climate change – a 1.5°C future.
  • 130 banks – one-third of the global banking sector – signed up to align their businesses with the Paris agreement goals.

Again, the private sector has demonstrated willingness to make steps to adjust their business plans and strategies in line with the national and international goals and targets to reduce CO2 emissions by 2020 and net zero emissions by the middle of the century. Yet, there were no detailed plans laid out on how the companies plan to contribute and if they are ready to make some harsh business decisions.

Will the promises be kept?

The UN Climate Action Summit ended on a positive note, that is if all the promises are taken into account. Yet, these promises were made in the recent past as well, however the world is still fighting its battles against climate change. But will these ones be kept? Well, it remains to be seen. As the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said “You have delivered a boost in momentum, cooperation and ambition. But we have a long way to go.”

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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