Hot on the heels of several alarming weather occurrences, there’s another two climate-related events taking place this week in New York – only, these are planned. Both are focused on creating positive change, but which will have the greatest impact?

First, there’s the UN General Assembly, which kicked off this week at the UN Headquarters in New York City and saw world leaders gather to discuss some of the most pressing challenges facing the world, including issues impacting the environment. Coinciding with this is Climate Week, an annual event comprising hundreds of activities hosted in the NY area and around the world, aimed at furthering discussions around climate change and fostering global solutions. The CW programs are attended by change makers, activists, business leaders and political representatives from across the social spectrum, albeit with a singular focus: hastening true climate action. It is one of the largest organised events of its kind in the world, and this year was all about a show of force and a sense of urgency.

Debate rages over the speed of climate action

Many are looking toward this week’s UN assembly with an increased sense of urgency, hopeful that real change will be presented.

As world leaders rehearsed their talking points for the week ahead, many would have looked outside their NY windows to the scene unfolding on Sunday; tens of thousands of climate activists and protesters who took to the streets with a march along Midtown Manhattan. Their rally cry was centered around demanding governments commit to ending the use of fossil fuels and was bolstered by similar rallies in the US and around the world.

Much of the angst will no doubt be charged by an interplay of undesirable political action and unprecedented global weather events, including catastrophic fires, multiple “once-in-a-lifetime” floods and citizens sweltering through the hottest month ever.

And despite the progress made by the US Government’s Inflation Reduction Act (which aimed to spur progress against climate targets and re-invigorate the country’s clean energy sector) in its first year, a recent decision by the Biden administration to approve new oil and gas drilling permits to help offset rising fuel prices seemingly runs counter to the IRA’s intended goals.

Arguably, it’s one step forward, and one step back. Whilst in “calmer climate” years gone by, this decision would have been seen as a mere frustration. But with the impact of climate change and worsening environmental issues being felt by people across the world, many are looking toward this week’s UN assembly with an increased sense of urgency, hopeful that real change will be presented. There’s still time to limit global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid catastrophic outcomes, but that window is shrinking with each day that passes.

What happens next?

The price of entry is non-negotiable — credible, serious and new climate action and nature-based solutions that will move the needle forward and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis must be presented. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The activists and ongoing protests will provide a fiery backdrop for the events scheduled at UN HQ this week. Next on the agenda is the UN’s Climate Ambition Summit (Wednesday, September 20th), a forum where participating government leaders are expected to present a host of information relating to climate targets, future plans and action-to-date, including:

  • reporting on energy transition plans and updated net-zero targets
  • statements of commitment to the Green Climate Fund
  • plans to phase-out fossil fuels

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has invited leaders from around the world, but warned that admission to the forum is limited to those willing to present “credible, serious and new climate action and nature-based solutions that will move the needle forward and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis.”

There’s also a special call out for large-scale emitters and all G20 members to commit to even more ambitious economy-wide contributions that feature quantifiable cuts to emissions.

Meanwhile, representatives from governments, businesses and financial institutions are expected to provide the following:

  • UN standards-compliant transition plans for limiting global warming to 1.5°C and net-zero pledges aligned with 2025 and 2023 targets
  • Credible plans to phase-out fossil fuels
  • A commitment to publicly advocate for science-based climate action
  • Presentations illustrating existing or emerging partnerships to address climate challenges and accelerate decarbonisation of high-emitting sectors

Whilst the list of requirements is notable, those gathered in the streets of New York, at events across the US and on the international stage will be laser focused and hanging on every statement. A surprise implementation partnership, reduced emissions announcement or agreement between nations will go a long way in signifying renewed commitment to climate goals, but that’s just step one. Credible action is also required on behalf of industries, governments and citizens, with no deviation from the script.

Beyond that, there is also COP28 in November, where UN members are expected to report on their progress toward the Paris Agreement targets.

This is the week (of all weeks) that the global climate avengers at the UN need to truly assemble, provide actionable pathways, and stick to them. After all, the whole world is watching this movie, and a fairytale ending would be much appreciated.

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