THE BLOG
09/26/2014 12:31 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2014

Climate Summit Focuses Leaders on the Work Ahead

The Climate Summit in New York brought together world leaders from over 125 countries, leading companies, 400,000 citizens demanding climate action, and other leading policymakers. After all that, it is hard to decipher the final impact. While the Summit clearly didn’t put us on the path to solve climate change it outlines key paths forward that world leaders will have to deliver upon next year if they are to be known as the generation that does something about this problem.

This week created three key conditions for success next year.

The public cares – as 400,000 people came to the street in the largest the climate mobilization in history. This was a powerful moment. The NRDC contingent was staged at 76th Street – 20 blocks from the front – and we didn’t move for two hours as the crowd in front of us was so large that the streets were overwhelmed. And there was ten blocks of people behind us. As we waited I mixed with the surrounding contingents and discovered a huge variation of people, deep passion, and a strong desire for action now. This video that my NRDC colleagues captured provides a glimpse into this diversity and passion for action at the march.

This group of people and the hundreds of thousands in other cities around the world are just a small snapshot of the tens of millions of people throughout the world that want leaders to act urgently to address an issue that will leave a devastating impact on all the current generations. We will need this passion and people power to convince politicians that they must take decisive steps next year in Paris to address climate change.

Key leaders showed promising signs that they are prepared to take bold action next year. We didn’t expect key countries to come to New York and announce their climate targets for 2025, but many of the key countries showed that they are preparing for strong commitments next year. For example the two largest emitters in the world provided strong clues that they are prepared for even more action when they come forward early next year with their next round of commitments.

The US said that it will meet its current climate commitment and commit to even bolder action by 2025. As President Obama said:

“Five years ago, I pledged America would reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.  America will meet that target.  And by early next year, we will put forward our next emission target, reflecting our confidence in the ability of our technological entrepreneurs and scientific innovators to lead the way.”

China provided the first official signal that it is preparing its post-2020 target and that will include a carbon pollution peak. As Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli announced:

“We will announce post-2020 actions on climate change as soon as we can [a press conference later in the day clarified that this would be in the first part of next year], which will bring about marked progress in reducing carbon-intensity, increasing the share of non-fossil fuels and raising forest stock, as well as the peaking of CO2 emissions as early as possible.”

At the same time countries also started to make down payments on the other key component of the Paris 2015 climate agreement – commitments to mobilize significant resources to assist developing countries in reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. A critical cornerstone of that signal is ensuring that the Green Climate Fund – the new multilateral fund for climate action – is initially resourced with a significant amount of financing to begin to spur real action on the ground. A number of countries announced pledges for this fund and countries showed that they are prepared for even more. At the Climate Summit countries pledged over $1.3 billion in additional resources for the Green Climate Fund. And now the Green Climate Fund has pledges of $2.4 billion and more are expected in November when countries meet again to discuss initial resource mobilization and this should include contributions from the U.S., Japan, Canada, Australia, and more from Europe.

More will clearly need to be delivered by leaders next year on emissions reduction commitments and finance if the Paris 2015 agreement will put the world on a path to address the worst impacts of climate change. After all, promises of things next year are only positive signs of progress if leaders actually deliver next year.

Deploying all the tools in the toolbox – and then some. Several decades ago international action on climate change could arguably be described as: countries come and commit at an international meeting and then go home to enshrine that in domestic laws and policies. But over the past decade the diversity of action has grown outside the contours of national borders (and legislatures) towards a more multi-faceted set of arenas and players. So now international climate action is also being driven by international forums outside of the climate negotiations (e.g., the Montreal Protocol), partnership commitments (e.g., around ending deforestation in the supply-chains), subnational governments (e.g., cities and states/provinces), and companies. Moving in these venues and with this diversity of actors doesn’t take the focus off of national governments, but instead helps to spur additional actions on-the-ground to address climate change. It has become a more powerful tool in the toolbox than it was just five years ago when leaders met in Copenhagen.

The Climate Summit in New York sought to capture and spur this new dynamic by asking countries, companies, financial institutions, cities, etc to come forward with concrete actions that they will take now to address climate change. Only time will tell whether they will help deliver the necessary actions on the ground but there are some promising initiatives that could be critical. Here are a couple of examples (see here for the list compiled by the U.N.):

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These signs of progress in New York will have to deliver over the next few years or else they will be seen as a huge missed opportunity to help turn the corner on climate change. Next year we will need each of these elements to deliver even more. We’ll need more people power, commitments to strong action by key countries, and tools in the toolbox.