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Virtual 2020 Climate Ambition Summit tried to keep up momentum on #ClimateAction but was ultimately underwhelming

25th Dec 2020
Virtual 2020 Climate Ambition Summit tried to keep up momentum on #ClimateAction but was ultimately underwhelming

(Credit: Nick Humphries/Creative Commons)

The 2020 Climate Ambition Summit took place in lieu of COP26, which will be hosted next year in Glasgow. The 6-hour summit gave world leaders, youth climate activists and business heads time to talk about their renewed commitments to climate action.The summit, held on December 12, was viewed as an attempt to keep the momentum around climate action going while the world focused mostly on the coronavirus crisis.


The summit, five years after the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement, attempted to get leaders to commit to higher greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, started the summit by stating bluntly that Paris commitments were not enough, and yet were still not being met.

He also addressed the need for more women in leadership roles, after an open letter was published by women calling for more representation at the highest levels of climate negotiations. Guterres also applauded the UK for announcing ambitious new targets in the run-up to the summit.

A few days before the summit, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, published a 10-point plan to tackle climate change. It includes aims to reduce the UK’s emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, and sets aside £12 billion towards green job creation, though only £4 billion is new, and the plan anticipates three times as much funding from the private sector.

Some officials criticized the plan as not ambitious enough, citing how much more Germany and France had committed to emission reductions schemes, and claiming the plan didn’t address the current unemployment crisis.

Others wonder whether the plan is scalable, given that the UK failed to reach its previous goals. Shadow Business Secretary, Ed Miliband, stated, “The government didn’t have the policies to meet their previous target, and the chasm will be even greater now.”

Some world leaders were conspicuously absent from the summit because the invitation was reserved for those who UN leadership felt were taking climate action seriously. Among those absent: Australia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Russia, Mexico and Indonesia.

Following the event, the UN published a press release hailing, “A growing number of countries (15) shifted gears from incremental to major increases. Countries committing much stronger NDCs [Nationally Determined Contributions] at the Summit, include Argentina, Barbados, Canada, Colombia, Iceland, and Peru.”

New Targets

Johnson also announced that the UK will end “taxpayer support for fossil fuel projects overseas,” in a tweet. At the summit, Johnson lauded the scientific innovations that led to a Covid-19 vaccine within one year of the virus’ discovery and said such scientific innovations could be used to tackle the even more pressing issue of climate change.

China’s showing was lacklustre, raising its commitments by 5% and causing some to wonder whether its goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2060 is attainable, especially given that it is still on track to reach peak emissions by 2030.
Iceland also announced new targets, aiming to heighten reductions by 15%, from 40%-55%, to reach carbon neutrality by 2040. Iceland’s per capita emissions have increased in recent years, due, in part, to tourism.

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced that India was on track to achieve its Paris Agreement goals and that the country had expanded forest cover and renewable energy capacity.

Modi also praised two of India’s recent initiatives: International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster-Resilient Infrastructure. Imran Khan of Pakistan pledged to stop building new coal-fired power plants and to get 60% of its power generation from renewable energy by 2030.


Joshua Amponsem, the founder of the Green Africa Youth Organization, was asked to comment on adaptation and resilience. He spoke of drought in the Sahelian strip, wildfires and “the psychological impacts of having to think about the intensity, frequency of extreme weather events that lie ahead.” He called on leaders to put forward their most ambitious plans yet.

Nisreen Elsaim, Chair of UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, was asked what issues are most important to civil society and marginalized groups. Elsaim mentioned finance and market mechanisms, mitigation, loss and damage, and parties honouring their commitments. On marginalized groups, she stated, “The question is not how to give them a voice, the question is, why do we still have marginalized groups?”

Moving forward

The coronavirus pandemic has been the major focus of world leaders this past year. Some believe that their ability to allocate funds for nationwide relief packages means that they could leverage funds for major climate mitigation projects.

Coronavirus relief and sustainability projects could go hand-in-hand, opening jobs in green industries through job training and technological innovations. If there are trillions of dollars in funding for coronavirus relief, an immediate threat, shouldn’t there be just as much, if not more funding for an ever-present threat like climate change?

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, Grit Daily Staff Writer & The Muslim News Environmental Columnist

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