The UN secretary general has called on all countries to declare a climate emergency or face “catastrophic” results.
Dozens of world leaders spoke at the virtual Climate Ambition Summit on Saturday – from the smallest nation’s worst-hit by climate change to the world’s worst polluters.
Nations at the UN summit were urged to “stop the assault” on the planet and increase their ambition on cutting the greenhouse gases that drive climate change.
United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres warned leaders the world was heading for a “catastrophic” 3C of warming, as he urged them to declare a state of climate emergency in their countries until they become carbon neutral.
Just 38 countries have done so already.
The online summit was set up to keep pressure on countries to make ambitious carbon reduction plans, after last month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) climate talks were postponed a year due to the pandemic.
It is exactly five years since the Paris Agreement, when signatories pledged to try to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Scientists widely agree any warming above this guardrail will have increasingly drastic effects.
Many countries set out plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 during the talks, as well as ratcheting up short-term goals to drastically reduce greenhouse gasses in the next decade.
Boris Johnson, co-hosting the event, said: “We’re doing this not because we are hair-shirt wearing, tree-hugging, mung bean-munching eco freaks – though I’ve got nothing against any of those categories – mung beans are probably delicious.
“We’re doing it because we know that scientific advances will allow us collectively as humanity to save our planet and create millions of high skilled jobs as we recover from COVID.”
Britain has already said it will reduce its emissions by 68% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
Promises made at the summit include new targets on renewables by China and India.
President Xi Jinping pledged to more than double China’s existing wind and solar capacity. He’s already said China will be net zero by 2060.
Pakistan said it would end construction of new coal power plants and Canada announced an increase in carbon tax.
Barbados and the Maldives pledged to be net zero within 10 years.
The Pope pledged that Vatican City – the world’s smallest state – would be net zero by 2050.
He said: “The current pandemic and climate change affect, above all, the lives of the poorest and most fragile.
“In addition to adopting some measures that cannot be postponed any longer, a strategy is needed to reduce net emissions to zero.”
The commitments made in Paris are due to be updated by the end of this year with new NDCs – or nationally determined contributions.
Saturday’s virtual summit was designed to encourage others not taking part to step up and start to build momentum in the 12-month countdown to next year’s COP26 summit.
It is being co-hosted by the United Nations, the UK, and France.
John Murton is the government’s COP26 envoy and is responsible for co-ordinating UK diplomacy in relation to COP26.
He told Sky News: “We’re showcasing the most ambitious countries in this sphere of climate action so we can say ‘look this is what best practice looks like’ and encourage other countries to come forward with similarly ambitious plans ahead of COP26 next year.
“We’re closing the gap, bending the curve and bringing ourselves closer to achieving Paris. We need to accelerate that change but we’re making progress.”
The UN says to limit temperature rise to 1.5C, as set out in the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the world needs to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% every year between now and 2030.
Some analysis shows that if all current pledges are met warming can be limited to just above 2C – which would place levels within striking distance of the Paris goals.
Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement made America a notable absentee from the summit along with Australia.
But there is great anticipation about the promises and impact of the US President-elect Joe Biden.