The 2020 Climate Ambition Summit: COVID-19 And Guterres Urging The Declaration Of National States Of “Climate Emergency”

On Saturday 12 December 2020, at the Climate Ambition Summit, UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres called upon world leaders to declare national states of “climate emergency” to increase and speed up climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, until carbon neutrality is reached. In the 2015 Paris Agreement, all parties (195 countries) pledged to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5–2°C, however, five years later, many Nationally Determined Contributions have proven to be insufficiently ambitious or have not been met, currently setting us on a path to 3°C global warming.

According to the organizers, the goal of the Climate Ambition Summit is to “see countries present stronger 2030 climate plans, long-term decarbonization strategies and post-2020 climate finance and adaptation programmes.” According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, 75 leaders from all continents outlined new commitments at the Summit, and by the end of 2020, more than 50 new Nationally Determined Contributions will be officially submitted. Unlike previous climate summits, only countries with “climate policy achievements” were invited to the event and given the space to speak, as no general negotiations were planned. This was likely a move to put pressure on governments that are falling behind on their climate commitments.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Climate Ambition Summit is extremely important to remind governments to not postpone their climate targets. The 2020 UN Environment Programme (UNEP) annual Emissions Gap Report found that despite a global 7% fall in emissions due to COVID-19 restrictions, the gap to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming “well below 2°C” continues to grow. Both the pandemic and climate change are driven by inadequate investment in and the privatization of essential public goods (healthcare and the environment), and COVID-19 actually presents an opportunity to take accelerated action on the climate emergency. Researchers at the University of Amsterdam Centre for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS) found that COVID-19 has deflated the “carbon bubble,” evident through decreased share prices, market capitalizations and declined fossil sector activity. For example, Shell’s company share prices fell by 51% between July 2019–April 2020. However, G20 nations have been spending 50% more in their rescue packages on fossil fuel intensive sectors compared to low-carbon sectors. A low-carbon pandemic recovery strategy is necessary, and according to the UNEP report, it could cut 25% off the greenhouse emissions expected in 2030, based on policies in place before COVID-19.

Overall, the Climate Ambition Summit is building momentum in preparation for the COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change conference taking place in November 2021 in Glasgow. During COP25, which took place in Madrid in December 2019, the parties were unable to reach a consensus on the remaining rules for the Paris Agreement, particularly the common time frames for the Nationally Determined Contributions and the carbon markets. With these decisions postponed to COP26, and 10 more tough months of simultaneously battling the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, COP26 will be a key date to evaluate our global climate progress.

Aya Wietzorrek