On Monday, world leaders are convening in New York for the U.N. Climate Summit. Expect hopeful rhetoric and discussion about ambitious programs, but no concrete results. The summit’s primary aim is political, not legal. It may help pressure governments to ratchet up their commitments or achieve the goals they’ve already set under the Paris agreement, but it won’t produce any legal results. By naming and shaming governments that have not achieved what they’ve promised, the summit may yield incremental improvements. But don’t expect it to produce the rapid decarbonization that scientists agree is needed.
What is the U.N. Climate Summit?
In 2014, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened the first such summit to push nations toward consensus on the future Paris agreement, which was concluded in December 2015. The summit has never been part of the official negotiation process.Since then, it has become yet another ritual in climate change politics. Other summits serve a similar hortatory function: leading by example and pressuring others to do more. The Climate Group, a U.K.-based nongovernmental organization that works with governments and the private sector, has run Climate Week NYC since 2009, showcasing national, city, state and provincial governments’ action on climate, as well as private-sector initiatives. It runs in parallel with the U.N. General Assembly in September. In 2018, California Gov. Jerry Brown convened the Global Climate Action Summit to gather NGOs, businesses, cities, states and regional groups to discuss their climate commitments. These summits all share similar goals — to bring together governments, civil society and the private sector to publicize how they are addressing climate change.