During a passionate address at the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a stark warning to political leaders, business figures, activists, and representatives of civil society. He painted a grim picture of the consequences of inaction as extreme weather incidents intensify, describing farmers helplessly witnessing their crops being swept away by floods, the emergence of new and deadly diseases due to rising temperatures, and the mass displacement of people escaping historic wildfires.
“Horrendous heat is having horrendous effects”, the UN chief declared on Wednesday, as a broad global coalition of “movers and doers” politicians, business and civil society gathered in New York for the first ever Climate Ambition Summit.
In his words, “Our focus here is on climate solutions – and our task is urgent.” Guterres pointed out that climate action was struggling to keep pace with the immense challenge at hand, with global temperatures on a trajectory towards a 2.8°C increase, heightening the risks of danger and instability.
However, he emphasised that the future remains open to change, and the target of the Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to as close to 1.5°C as possible is still within reach. “We can still create a world characterized by clean air, abundant green employment opportunities, and accessible clean energy for all,” he declared, addressing the high-profile assembly of forward-thinking leaders and proactive change-makers.
Activists are refusing to be silenced, Indigenous Peoples are rallying to defend their ancestral land, and corporate executives are transforming how they do business. The UN chief is calling for a Climate Solidarity Pact that will hold major emitters more to account, and calling on wealthy countries to support emerging economies so they can weather the crisis. The Acceleration Agenda calls on governments “to hit fast forward”, he added.
The Secretary-General emphasized the imperative of climate justice, acknowledging the frustration felt by many of the world’s poorest nations who bear a disproportionate burden from a crisis they did not cause.
He expressed that many of these impoverished nations have a legitimate right to be angry due to unfulfilled promises of financial assistance and exorbitant borrowing costs. He urged all parties to implement the Loss and Damage Fund at COP28, emphasising the need for developed countries to fulfill their $100 billion commitment, replenish the Green Climate Fund, and double adaptation funding. Additionally, he called for the establishment of early warning systems accessible to everyone by 2027.
The Acceleration Agenda also places significant emphasis on businesses and financial institutions committing to genuine net-zero pathways, focusing on transparent and credible emission reduction plans. The Secretary-General stressed that every company genuinely committed to addressing climate change must create just transition plans that effectively reduce emissions and deliver climate justice.
He concluded his address by calling for action that extends beyond the confines of meeting rooms in New York, emphasising the urgency of accelerating climate efforts, which was met with resounding applause. In response, Kenyan President William Ruto highlighted Africa’s immense potential, with its abundant mineral resources and biodiversity, capable of achieving large-scale green global manufacturing given the necessary financial support. “Unlike other regions, Africa does not have to choose between satisfying new demand and decarbonizing existing capacities, because our existing capacity is very low,” he explained, adding that the continent can “leapfrog into a fully green industrial paradigm”.
The themes of financing and environmental justice permeated the discussions. Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, advocated for new agreements to facilitate a transition to renewable energy without loopholes or excuses. She called for an international treaty on the non-proliferation of fossil fuels and a global phase-out plan to achieve true zero emissions by 2050. “We, the people of the Global South are not asking for aid or assistance. Climate finance is an obligation and a part of reparations for historical and continuing harms and injustices,” she asserted the right “not just to survive, but to build a better home and future for our children.”
Several developed countries pledged their commitment to contribute their fair share, with Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen announcing an additional €220 million for climate change efforts between 2023 and 2026. A portion of these funds will be allocated to programmes and projects related to loss and damage. Austria also plans to increase its contribution to the Green Climate Fund by 25%, totaling €160 million. However, President Van der Bellen emphasised that financial contributions alone cannot resolve the climate crisis, underlining the importance of curbing emissions domestically, with Austria aiming for a ‘net-zero’ target by 2040.
The Summit participants also convened a special session to address the complex but vital issue of loss and damage.