New York climate march sets tone for week of UN talks

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Thousands of climate campaigners filled the streets of New York on Sunday, urging President Joe Biden to stop issuing approvals for new fossil fuel projects, as world leaders gather for the UN’s general assembly this week.

The demonstration, supported by more than 700 global climate organisations that were also behind related protests in a host of other countries, comes ahead of an inaugural one-day “climate ambition summit” held by the UN on Wednesday, separate to the main talks.

While Biden will travel to New York to address the UN assembly on Tuesday, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday the president was not scheduled to attend the climate-specific UN summit. 

However, the president would use his visit to New York to push “US interests and values” on issues ranging from climate change to global support for Ukraine, Sullivan said. 

The march in New York kicks off a broader week of climate action, as business executives, politicians and activists all descend on the city for a range of conferences and summits.

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Speakers range from Ugandan justice activist Vanessa Nakate to US billionaire Michael Bloomberg and new World Bank president Ajay Banga, along with executives from technology and clean energy companies, and environment ministers of a swath of nations across the south from Africa to South America and across the north from Belgium to Canada.

The UN’s general assembly and its dedicated climate summit are the last major meetings of world leaders ahead of the UN COP28 climate deliberations in Dubai in December.

The world has experienced its hottest season on record, and the world’s top scientists have warned that global warming is “more likely than not” in the near-term to reach a 1.5°C rise since pre-industrial times.

This is distinct from a long-term rise in average temperatures of 1.5°C that was set as a goal in the Paris climate accord in 2015. On this basis, the world has already warmed by 1.1°C.

The report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, signed off by governments worldwide, concluded that humanity had the tools to curb and adapt to climate change, but that political “commitment” was a barrier to progress. 

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UN secretary-general António Guterres, the architect of this week’s climate summit, warned in July that the world faced a new era of “global boiling”.

Despite this, world leaders have struggled to reach agreement on climate progress in recent multilateral meetings. People familiar with the G20 climate ministerial meetings in July told the FT that China and Saudi Arabia had derailed efforts to debate greenhouse gas emissions targets, frustrating diplomats from other nations.

At COP28, negotiators from almost 200 countries will need to co-operate to reach agreements on the so-called global stocktake on emissions, the first since the Paris agreement, and agree arrangements for a fund for loss and damage related to climate change.

Selwin Hart, the special adviser to the UN secretary-general on climate action, told country representatives last week that this week’s gathering was intended to “showcase first-movers and doers” on actions both to slow climate change and to adapt to a warming planet. 

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The agenda includes discussions on how to finance this adaptation to climate change. A meeting of island nations vulnerable to sea-level rise is set to take place on the fringes of the UN later in the week.

“Those who have contributed the least [to climate change] are paying the heaviest price so we are at a moment where it is absolutely clear that we need to do things with great urgency,” Hart told reporters on Friday. 

“It is absolutely clear that we need to do things with great urgency . . . accelerate the pace of decarbonisation to keep the goals of the Paris agreement within reach,” he said.

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