The UN Climate Action Summit: everything you need to know

Can an emergency meeting of global leaders tackle climate change?

The UN secretary general flies over the Noor solar plant in Sweihan, between Abu Dhabi city and Al Ain. Wam
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Heatwaves, drought and rising seas are wreaking havoc across the globe. The past four years have been the hottest on record, while winter temperatures in the Arctic have soared by 3°C since 1990. The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres has called for a special summit on September 23 to confront these alarming trends.  It takes place as part of the United Nations General Assembly.

What will happen on Monday?

The summit aims to hold countries accountable to the Paris agreement. The deal - agreed in 2015 and signed by 195 countries including the UAE - seeks to limit global temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

But scientists have cautioned that the world faces increases of more than 1.5°C within a decade if countries do not act. In that scenario, low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives could disappear.

Mr Guterres told leaders to come on Monday armed with concrete plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade and to net zero emissions by 2050

What are the UAE’s hopes for the summit?

Thani Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and the Environment will lead the UAE delegation. The ministry told The National it wants to see progress on emissions and protecting communities, particularly in small island states and less developed countries.

“We will see more commitments from world nations at the summit and we are confident that these will step up efforts to tackle climate change,” said Fahed Al Hammadi, director of the climate change department at the ministry. “We also would like to draw the world’s attention to the pressing impact of climate change on people, their health and livelihood.”

The UAE also wants more attention on the health consequences of climate change such as air pollution.

What has the UAE been doing to tackle climate change?

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas emission that is mainly created by fossil fuels. The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi said the emirate’s annual carbon dioxide emissions per capita are about 37 metric tonnes, one of the world’s highest rates.

But by 2050, the UAE wants 44 per cent of power generation to come from clean energy, 38 per cent from gas, 12 per cent from clean coal and 6 per cent from nuclear.

Progress is being made in renewables. The UAE generates less than 5 per cent of its electricity through renewables, with most coming from solar parks in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This compares with about 20 per cent globally. However, Abu Dhabi in June announced a new 2 gigawatt solar project in Al Dhafra. The 1GW Noor plant in Sweihan is already meeting the power needs of about 90,000 people.

The UAE also hosted the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting during the summer to craft the agenda for next Monday's event.

What about Greta Thunberg?

The Youth Climate Summit, a gathering of young climate-change campaigners, takes place on Saturday. Young people across the world have been among the most vociferous campaigners for action on climate change. Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, for example, has pioneered “climate strikes” in which pupils and workers walk out to urge leaders to act. A global strike on Friday saw millions protest at events across the globe. Thunberg, 16, also sailed across the Atlantic on a solar-powered yacht to attend the summit – rather than take a plane.

Climate activist protest near the UN headquarters on August 30, 2019, in New York. Swedish climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg joined hundreds of other teenagers protesting outside the United Nations Friday in her first demonstration on US soil since arriving by zero-carbon yacht. Thunberg, 16, has spurred teenagers and students around the world to gather every Friday under the rallying cry "Fridays for future" to call on adults to act now to save the planet. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith
A climate protest featuring Greta Thunberg near the UN headquarters in New York in August. It was her first demonstration on US soil since arriving by zero-carbon yacht. Bryan Smith / AFP

Can the summit make a difference?

Mr Al Hammadi said the UAE believes the summit will be a turning point, particularly in a month that has seen devastating storms hit America and Japan. “The extreme weather events that took place earlier this month and caused immense devastation to life and property sent a clear message to the world that although the cost of climate action is high, the cost of inaction is far greater,” he said.

However, there is still scepticism among some about the impact of climate change. It is still unclear if US president, Donald Trump, will attend.

The UN’s special envoy for the summit, Luis Alfonso de Alba, said the world needed to move on from the countries that doubted climate change. “The majority can make the difference,” he said.

What happens after?

The spotlight then turns to Chile where in December the UN hosts another climate meeting which points to 2020 – a critical year for the Paris agreement. By December 2020, signatories to Paris must commit to their enhanced pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.

“As … António Guterres put it, this is a race that we can and must win,” said Mr Al Hammadi. “Failure is not an option.”