On September 23, at the invitation of the UN Secretary-General, 100 Heads of State and Government, including 9 from Arab countries, were joined by more than 800 leaders from business, finance, and civil society, at the Climate Summit in New York. The purpose of the Summit was to raise political momentum for a new climate agreement in Paris in 2015 and to galvanize action in all countries to reduce emissions and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.

The Summit was preceded on Sunday by a Climate Marsh whereby about 400,000 people from all walks of life marched in New York in support of strong action on climate change. Similar marshes took place in more than 150 cities around the world.
At the Summit, the first such gathering on climate in five years, leaders did not make any new commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions or major pledges for climate finance. However, the “national announcements” provided a boost to the move towards a strong agreement in 2015. Some highlights:

– Limiting global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
– Finalizing a universal new agreement under the UNFCCC in Paris in 2015 and arriving at a first draft of such agreement in Lima in December 2014.
– Reaffirming (many leaders) the objectives and principles of the UNFCCC including the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.
– Strengthening national policies for low-carbon growth and adaptation plans and stronger renewable energy and energy efficiency targets.
– Supporting the mobilization of public and private finance to meet the $100 billion goal per year by 2020.
– Putting a price on carbon (many leaders) to provide markets with the policy signals needed to invest in climate solutions.
Many participants awaited with interest the speeches of the leaders of China and the United States, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse
gases. China said for the first time that it will take firm action on climate change and that its emissions will peak “as early as possible.” China will aim to reduce its carbon intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) by 45% by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. The US on the other hand reported on steps it is taking to reduce emissions by 17% from 2005 by 2020, including tougher rules for coal-fired power plants and automobiles, tripling energy production from wind and increasing solar energy output tenfold.
As to climate finance, a small number of countries, mostly European, made new pledges to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) totaling $2.3 billion with France and Germany (before the Summit) pledging $1 billion each. At the same time, leading commercial banks announced plans to issue $30 billion of Green Bond by 2015, and a coalition of institutional investors committed to decarbonize $100 billion of their assets.
Several big oil and gas companies, including Saudi Aramco, China’s Sinopec, and France’s Total, announced an “oil and gas climate initiative” to reduce gas flaring and boost the role of renewable energy. Khalid Al-Falih, CEO of Aramco was quoted as saying that the initiative “will put our industry more firmly at the forefront of the climate solution.”
In conclusion, the Summit clearly showed that climate is now back on the agenda, at the highest level. It has provided optimism and
momentum towards a new climate agreement in Paris in 2015. The first reality check, however, will be in Lima in December where negotiators will gather one more time before Paris to negotiate the outline/framework of a new agreement. If they fail, the speeches and commitments at the Summit will prove to be once again no more than political rhetoric.