United Nations Climate Summit achieves bold action

New steps to immediately tackle climate change were announced by government, business, finance and civil society leaders at the United Nations secretary general’s Climate Summit in New York.

The new initiatives for finance, farming and forests – as well as new coalitions bringing together cities, businesses and citizens – will cut emissions and strengthen resilience to the impacts of climate change and global warming.

“Change is in the air. Today’s climate summit has shown an entirely new, cooperative global approach to climate change,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. “The actions announced today by governments, businesses, finance and civil society show that many partners are eager to confront the challenges of climate change together.”

The initiatives range from actions that will have a profound impact on global financial markets to more local actions that will reduce the emissions of smallholder farmers.

In the energy sector, two initiatives will be scaled up to expand access to clean, renewable energy for people in eastern and southern Africa and small island developing states.

“Today shows that the world is finally waking up to the economic and social opportunities of taking action on climate change,” Ban said. “The climate summit is showcasing a level of ambition not seen before and producing actions and new initiatives that will make a significant difference.”

The summit saw a slew of key announcements, outlined below.

  • • A coalition of institutional investors has committed to decarbonising US$100 billion in institutional equity investments by December 2015 and to measure and disclose the carbon footprint of at least US$500 billion in investments.
  • • Commercial banks will provide US$30 billion in new climate finance by the end of 2015 by issuing green bonds and other innovative financing instruments.
  • • The national, bilateral and regional development banks of the International Development Finance Club announced that they are on track to increase their direct green-climate financing to US$100 billion a year for new climate finance activities by the end of 2015.
  • • The insurance industry has committed to double its green investments to US$84 billion by the end of 2015 and announced that it would increase the amount placed in climate-smart investments to 10 times the current amount by 2020. Developed and developing countries have started pulling together to capitalise the Green Climate Fund, by pledging several billion dollars.
  • • A group of developed countries announced a commitment of US$18 billion to be channelled to developing countries during 2014-20 with a strong focus on adaptation and mitigation.
  • • Three major pension funds from North America and Europe announced their ambition to accelerate their investments in low-carbon investments across asset classes up to more than US$31 billion by 2020.
  • • More than 70 countries and 1,000 companies endorsed the need for developing mechanisms that would adequately reflect the true costs relating to polluting and emissions; and over 30 leading companies endorsed the Caring for Climate Business Leadership Criteria on Carbon Pricing. This includes setting an internal carbon price high enough to materially affect investment decisions to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 150 partners, including 28 government, eight sub-national governments, 35 companies, 16 indigenous peoples' groups, and 45 NGO and civil society groups, will sign the New York Declaration on Forests which calls for cutting the loss of forests in half by 2020 and ending it a decade later in 2030. The declaration is backed by commitments including pledges of resources and actions from the private sector, governments and civil society.
  • • The declaration reaffirms and stretches commitments to reforestation and halting deforestation. Supporting this are a basket of strong commitments by the private sector, including palm oil companies and food companies, indigenous peoples and governments – from local through to national – to financial support for REDD+, deforestation programmes at scale, and deforestation-free supply chains for commodities on which we all rely.
  • • More than 20 global food companies committed to deforestation-free sourcing policies of palm oil. Three of these – the world's largest palm oil companies Wilmar, Golden Agri-Resources and Cargill – committed additionally to work together in Indonesia on implementation with governments and indigenous peoples. Taken together, the share of palm oil under zero deforestation commitments has grown from nothing to about 60% in the last year, with potential to reduce 400 to 450 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2020, or two billion tonnes in the period through 2020.

Cities are currently responsible for about 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions and can play a critical role in reducing these emissions and strengthening resilience.

At the summit mayors from around the world – including New York, Seoul, Paris, Johannesburg, Bogota and Copenhagen – announced the signing of the Mayors' Compact that will harmonise their members’ targets and strategies.
  • • Among the more than 2,000 in the Compact, 228 cities have set voluntary targets and strategies for greenhouse gas reductions, that could avoid up to 2.1 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.
  • • City networks also announced a harmonised transparent approach and platform to reducing city emissions which will help coordinate efforts and make them more transparent.

Initiatives to promote climate-smart agriculture were announced with the goal of helping 500 million smallholder farmers reduce their emissions and build resilience to the impacts of climate change:
  • • A newly launched Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture was supported by more than 40 governments, organisations and companies. Countries joining represent millions of farmers, at least a quarter of the world cereal production, 43 million undernourished people and 16% of total agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
  • • An Africa Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance will help some 25 million farming households across Africa practise climate-smart agriculture by 2025.
  • • Fortune 500 companies – including Kellogg Company, McDonalds and Walmart – committed to increase the amount of food in their respective supply chains produced with climate-smart approaches.

Five significant initiatives to address emissions reductions were made by business partners, with special emphasis on reducing potent short-lived climate pollutants – including methane, black carbon (soot) and hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs – that can have immediate impact and slow the increase in global temperatures expected over the next 35 years by as much as 0.6°C while benefiting people’s health and the production of food.
  • • The Oil & Gas Methane Partnership was launched bringing companies, including Eni of Italy, Pemex; the US gas company Southwestern Energy; Norway’s Statoil Group; BG Group, the former British Gas; and Thailand's oil and gas company PTT, together with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund, and governments from major oil and gas producing countries to reduce methane emissions, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. This unique platform to reduce methane emissions in the industry provides a robust transparent and collaborative approach for businesses, governments and civil society organisations to work together.
  • • The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative also announced by Saudi Aramco on behalf of others engaged, including BG Group, Eni, Pemex and Total, aims to build a platform to share best practices within the industry, address key climate risks, and catalyse meaningful action and coordination on climate change. This covers areas such as energy access, renewable energy, energy efficiency, reduction of gas flaring and methane emissions, among others – followed by regular reporting on ongoing efforts.
  • • More than 25 cities committed to develop and carry out quantifiable plans of action to reduce short-lived climate pollutants from the waste sector by 2020. The network is expected to expand to 50 cities by next year with the goal of 150 cities by 2020, and eventually to include 1,000 cities.
  • • Global corporate leaders such as Deutsche Post, DHL and IKEA, and green freight programmes such as Green Freight Europe and Eco Stars, launched a coordinating mechanism – the Global Green Freight Action Plan – to support more than 20 countries and about two dozen leading NGOs, multinational and intergovernmental organisations that aim to align and enhance existing efforts toward cleaner freight delivery.
  • • More than 20 countries and 10 international organisations announced their support to begin formal negotiations of an amendment to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. Emissions accounting and reporting would remain under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. There was stress on the need to begin formal negotiations in November 2014.
Renewable energy

There were two new initiatives aimed at providing clean renewable energy to developing countries in Eastern and Southern Africa and in Small Island Developing States.
  • • Ministers from 19 Eastern and Southern African countries endorsed the Africa Clean Energy Corridor initiative. This will advance the development of renewable energy projects and has potential to cut annual carbon dioxide emission levels by 310 metric tonnes throughout the Eastern and Southern African Power Pools by 2030. Cooperation on renewable energy deployment in the region would reduce generation costs by 4% and nearly triple electricity supply, transforming the current energy mix of a large portion of the African continent.
  • • The Small Island Developing States Lighthouse initiative, a framework for action to support the island countries as they transform their energy systems to include a greater share of renewable energy, was also launched. Through partnerships and focused cooperation, the initiative aims to mobilise US$500 million within five years and deploy 100 megawatts of new solar photovoltaic capacity consisting of new wind power, significant quantities of small hydropower and geothermal energy, and marine technology.
Energy efficiency

Leaders from more than 40 countries, 30 cities and dozens of corporations launched large-scale commitments on energy efficiency to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce energy costs.
  • • Vehicle fuel efficiency was taken up by 10 countries – Bangladesh, Chile, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nepal, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Uruguay and Vietnam – that are making firmer commitments to adopt and implement policies under the Global Fuel Economy Initiative, or GFEI. Thirty more countries are working with GFEI at various stages of developing fuel economy policies. The goal of GFEI is to double the efficiency of all new vehicles by 2030 and all vehicles by 2050. This would save more than one gigatonne of CO2 a year by 2025 and more than two gigatonnes annually by 2050.
  • • Lighting efficiency: More than 10 countries in Asia and the Pacific are joining the 55 countries already committed to phasing out inefficient incandescent lamps by 2016, as part of the UNEP-GEF en.lighten partnership to improve efficiency of residential lighting. They will collectively save more than two terawatt hours in electricity consumption yearly, reducing by 440 kilotonnes their emissions of CO2 and lowering their electricity bills by more than US$270 million each year.
  • • Twenty-eight countries have expressed their willingness to join a new Global Partnership on Appliances and Equipment, which seeks to improve energy performance standards for large appliances. The use of high-efficiency air conditioners, refrigerators and fans alone in these countries will reduce electricity consumption by 165 TWh per year, avoiding emission of 54 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually and saving more than US$22 billion in electricity bills each year.
  • • Building Efficiency is a new initiative being launched to help city, state, regional and national governments speed up adoption of policies that promote energy efficient buildings. National and municipal governments launching the partnership include Copenhagen, Lima, Mexico City, Milwaukee and Toyama. Among the business partners supporting the process are Johnson Controls, Velux, Philips and United Technologies.
  • • District Energy Systems aims to support cities or regional and national governments develop, retrofit or scale up district energy systems. These systems consolidate the provision of heating and cooling to a group of buildings, often using waste heat from an industrial facility. Action by 19 cities could avoid more than five megatonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

A variety of innovative resilience initiatives were announced at the summit, including many that will strengthen countries and communities on the climate front lines. These include:
  • • An initiative to provide user-friendly ‘news you can use’ climate information for countries around the world.
  • • The African Risk Capacity, or ARC, an innovative financial tool for mitigating risks from extreme weather events, announced an expansion of its services and coverage, including the introduction of Catastrophe Bonds. The initiative aims to transfer the burden of climate risk away from governments – and the farmers and pastoralists whom they protect – to the ARC, an African-owned, African Union-led financial entity that can better handle these risks.
  • • An initiative to integrate climate risk into the financial system was launched in response to the expanding number of extreme weather events. Investors, credit ratings agencies, insurers and financial regulators unveiled the initiative to develop climate risk stress testing for banking and securities regulation, as well as public and private sector accounting practices.

Four global transport alliances will significantly scale up proven low-carbon transport technologies, including initiatives to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road, increase the efficiency of rail transport and air travel, and provide sustainable public transportation options around the world.
  • • A new Urban Electric Mobility Initiative will increase the number of electric vehicles in cities to at least 30% of all new vehicles sold annually by 2030.
  • • The International Association of Public Transport Declaration on Climate Leadership resulted in over 350 commitments and actions from 110 public transport entities in 39 countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a host of measures, from increasing the number of new bus and metro lines to introducing car and bike sharing in countries around the globe – from Germany to Japan and from Colombia to Lebanon.
  • • The International Union of Railways – with 240 members worldwide, including the major railways of Europe, China, Russia, India and the US – launched the Low-Carbon Sustainable Rail Transport Challenge. It aims to increase rail use for freight and transport and meet ambitious targets for increased efficiency and emission reduction of 50% each by 2030 and 60% and 75%, respectively, by 2050. This initiative could result in a 75% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from rail transport by 2050.
  • • The International Civil Aviation Organization and the aviation industry, represented through the cross-industry Air Transport Action Group, stepped up commitments to achieve the industry’s long-term existing global goal to halve net CO2 emissions by 2050 compared to 2005 levels, including to implement a global market-based measure for international aviation for implementation from 2020 onward. Over 100 actions by partners and industry leaders – including Virgin Atlantic and Thai Airways – have been launched or scaled up since the secretary general’s call to action for the summit in September 2013.
New coalitions were formed across these various areas and more countries stepped forward with bold announcements, including more than 160 institutions and local governments, and more than 500 individuals committed to divesting US$50 billion from fossil fuel investments within the next three to five years and to reinvest in new energy sources.

* A full list of the announcements and commitments made at the Climate Summit can be found here.