Echoes of silence: Major world leaders absent at UN's climate summit
by Rena Dourou
This year's Climate Ambition Summit, convened by the United Nations on September 20, marked a significant departure from the norm. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, known for his blunt language, had dubbed it an "anti-nonsense" assembly, only inviting leaders with tangible plans to realize the audacious goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions. This selective invitation process was evident when, out of over 100 applications, only 41 speakers were approved - a list glaringly devoid of representatives from powerhouse nations such as China, the USA, the UK, Japan, or India.
In a world still grappling with the ongoing pandemic, many world leaders abstained from traveling to New York for the annual UN session. This included the conservative British Prime Minister, Rishi Shunak, who, amid poll underperformance and the rising popularity of Labour, unveiled a "pragmatic" approach to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050 on the day of the summit.
US President Biden, who addressed the UNGA, dispatched his special envoy for climate, John Kerry, to represent the nation at the summit. However, in a move that underscored the stringent criteria for participation, Kerry was not allocated speaking time during the high-profile segment. This exclusion elicited comments from climate activists like Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Destination Zero, who viewed the snub as a fitting response to the US's conflicting stance of promoting renewable energy while advancing fossil fuel projects.
Indeed, this contradiction is not confined to the United States. The world, faced with escalating extreme weather events, watches greenhouse gas emissions ascend, fueled by the unabating $7 trillion annual subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
The ominous shadow of the Russian invasion of Ukraine looms large, casting a pall over commendable efforts by nations like Brazil under President Lula. He pledged to eradicate deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, a stark pivot from the ecologically detrimental policies of his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. Yet, as David Waxow of the World Resources Institute eloquently said, these incremental efforts resemble "trying to put out a huge fire with a leaky hose".
Unfulfilled promises further highlight the sluggish pace of progress. The commitment by developed nations to channel $100 billion annually to their developing counterparts by 2020 remains an unmet pledge. Similarly, the Loss and Damage Fund, conceived to assist countries most imperiled by climate catastrophe, remains a theoretical concept following its inception at the UN World Climate Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh last November.
Kenyan President William Ruto's address encapsulated the sentiment of many developing nations. He advocated for a universal tax on fossil fuel trade to bridge the fiscal deficit, underscoring that the need was not for charity but justice. It is a clarion call for equality and fair play in the global arena where climate change is not a distant threat but a present and escalating danger.
In the wake of this summit, the absence of key global players and the persisting disparity between nations illuminates the challenging road ahead. The "anti-nonsense" summit may have set a new bar for inclusivity based on action, yet the arduous journey of translating ambitious goals into tangible, global climate action endures.
* Rena Dourou is a councilor of SYRIZA-P.S. in Athens. Her article was published on September 25, 2023, on the Greek news website Left.gr and translated from Greek into English for Gercek News readers.