What to expect from the UN Climate Summit

A view of the Climate Leaders Summit held in Washington, D.C., earlier this year on April 11. Will the U.N. Climate Summit accomplish anything? Photo by: Mark Garten / U.N.

As world leaders, mayors, aid officials and representatives from civil society and the private sector gather on Tuesday in New York for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit, the message is clear: We need to act now to truly win the battle against global warming.

Devex caught up with a few experts to find out what they expect to come out of the summit, which lies outside the official framework negotiations on climate change led by the UNFCCC.

“Tackling climate change doesn’t need new money ... there’s trillions of dollars being invested in technologies and energy, they’ve just been invested in the wrong kind of technology,” noted Dr. Saleem Huq, a senior fellow in the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development’s Climate Change Group.

Huq wants governments and corporate actors to understand that concept in New York, and asking oil and gas firms to change their ways immediately may not be feasible at this point, so people just “have to divest out of them.” The world, he pointed out, must tell investors and shareholders that “we will make your stock worth zero” through legislative action.

Liane Schalatek, associate director of Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America, doesn’t expect any major financial commitments by donors this week.

Schalatek focuses her work on the Green Climate Fund, established in 2009 as a way to finance major issues often debated in UNFCC negotiations like mitigating the effects of climate change or adopting new infrastructure in countries vulnerable to global warming. Although developed countries were asked to pledge $100 billion by 2020 to offset manufacturing, mining and other polluting industries, so far the only country that has committed a significant amount — $1 billion over the next four years — is Germany.

“This meeting wasn’t really set up for success ... it’s not a game changer,” explained Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst at ActionAid.

Wu said the summit does not give governments any incentive to make real commitments at this time because it is outside of the framework of UNFCC negotiations. The United States for instance already announced they would not be making any pledges, and with midterm elections coming up in November, Wu noted it’s safe to assume no big moves will be made in that sense this week.

Even if countries do make historic commitments, “it’s all really ‘greenwashing,’” Wu claimed, because there will no real follow-up or accountability from the United Nations or other countries.

Philippine Movement for Climate Justice Chair Lidy Nacpil said she has “no delusions” over what might happen at the summit regarding climate financing. Nacpil said her group and other “global south” movements are in New York to give a face to climate change effects because they live with them every day.

She cautioned that though there may be announcements that “look good and sound good, we will wait to celebrate until they are turned into actual policy,” and “corporate capture” will be a common problem, with private sector actors seizing the opportunity to push market-based solutions that look like they are environmentally friendly, but really focus only on profit.

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About the author

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    Mythili Sampathkumar

    Mythili Sampathkumar is a New York-based journalist covering development, the U.N., foreign policy, and U.S. politics. Her work has appeared in outlets like The Independent, LA Times, NBC News, Foreign Policy, Vox, and PRI.