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10 Great Things That Happened at the Climate Ambition Summit Held by the UK and France

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Several of the UN’s Global Goals are focused on protecting nature, keeping the oceans clean, and cutting carbon emissions — all necessary to ending extreme poverty and saving the planet. But Goal 13 for climate action is about the policy action that governments and societies need to take to achieve all of the UN's environmental goals. Summits like this month's Climate Ambition Summit can be really valuable in setting the agenda and keeping the pressure on governments to make necessary changes. To find out more about climate change and take action join us here.

Co-convened by the UK, France, and the United Nations, the Climate Ambition Summit that took place on Saturday Dec. 12, marked a key moment kicking off the next 10 years of climate action.

The role of the summit, as WWF’s head of international advocacy Bernadette Fischler explained to Global Citizen last week, was to get governments from around the world to come together and announce more ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions between now and 2030. It also provided a forum to present evidence of environmental action already taken.

The summit marked the 5-year anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, the groundbreaking international commitment to halting climate change and keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. So hopes were high that this summit would show clear signs of progress.

And for the UK, the Climate Ambition Summit marked a step on the road to hosting COP26 — the important UN climate change conference being held in Glasgow in November 2021, postponed by a year as a result of COVID-19. A key part of that role as host is showing leadership for other countries to follow.

Speaking to reporters after the summit, the UK’s Minister for Energy and COP26 President Alok Sharma said that while not enough was pledged yet to avoid dangerous warming by 2100, “real progress had been made”, with 45 countries setting more ambitious goals.

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However, while climate groups praised some commitments, activist Greta Thunberg said in a speech posted to her Instagram, that five years after the Paris Agreement not enough had changed, and that far away targets like 2030 or 2050 were not fast enough to keep the world's warming below 1.5C.

Here’s some of the big commitments that were announced during the summit. 

1. The UK announced that it will cut emissions by 68% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. 

Previously, the target was set at about a 57% reduction on 1990s levels by 2030. This new announcement will help accelerate the UK’s ambition to be net zero by 2050 and bring ambitious decarbonisation forward.

The pledge was made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson following research from the independent Climate Change Committee, which found that the costs associated with cutting carbon were falling. 

2. The European Union committed to a new target of at least a 55% reduction of carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels in the next 10 years. 

French President Emmanuel Macron said the new target was "a fundamental milestone on the way to carbon neutrality".

“Despite the global pandemic and one of the worst economic crises of our time, we have shown today that climate action remains at the top of the international agenda,” he added. 

3. Pakistan and Israel announced they would not build new coal power plants.

They have joined a growing number of countries stepping away from coal, the UN said. A similar pledge was made jointly by the UK and Canada back in 2017.

4.  China is aiming for 25% of energy consumption to come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

This is up from a previous commitment of aiming to be at 20% non-fossil energy by 2030. Currently only 15% of China's energy usage comes from renewable sources, and as the world’s biggest carbon emitter, it’s crucial that renewable energy provides bigger share of China’s energy needs.

However, there was no mention of China powering down its coal stations from President Xi Jinping for now. 

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5. 15 countries committed to much stronger Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Countries including Canada, Argentina, Barbados, Colombia, Iceland, and Peru committed to reduce carbon emissions more rapidly than they originally pledged under the Paris Agreement. 

Those pledges take the form of NDCs, which are assessments each country has made stating how much they will do to cut emissions and what their targets are. They are revised based on new information and can be improved upon.  

6. The UK, France, and Sweden will end international financial support for fossil fuels. 

From a UK perspective, this was one of the biggest commitments of the weekend. It means that the UK government will end export finance, aid funding, and trade promotion for new crude oil, natural gas, or coal energy projects. 

More than £20 billion of oil and gas exports have gone to overseas energy projects through trade promotion and export finance in the last four years, so it's a significant amount of divestment from fossil fuels. 

Moving away from this will help accelerate the switch to green energy around the world. Commenting on the decision Clara Goldsmith, campaigns director of the Climate Coalition, told reporters: "This is a huge boost to the UK government’s leadership credentials ahead of the crucial United Nations climate summit — COP26 — next year."

“This decision will reverberate around the world,” she continued. “The support for fossil fuel development overseas has been a stain on the UK’s climate reputation this year and this ban will help to restore it. The government must now lead a global push to get other governments to join them and accelerate the transition to clean energy.”

7. Three countries in Europe brought their target date for “net zero” forward from 2050.

Originally set for 2050, Finland instead said it would be net zero by 2035, Austria by 2040, and Sweden by 2045. The UK became the first major country in the world to create a legally binding net zero target in June 2019, aiming to produce less carbon emissions than it takes out of the atmosphere by 2050.

8. Countries that are especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change showed amazing leadership. 

Barbados and the Maldives said they was aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030, and the Pacific island country of Vanuatu said it would be running on 100% renewables, also by 2030, setting some incredible examples. 

Meanwhile, Fiji, Malawi, Nauru, and Nepal all said they will aim to be net zero by 2050.

9. Wealthier countries pledged more support to developing countries to adapt to climate change.

This includes €500 million in additional investment pledged from Germany this year to go towards supporting developing countries to adapt, and an additional €1 billion per year from France.

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10. City mayors showed they are doing their bit too. 

A campaign called “Race to Resilience” was launched at the Summit which brings together mayors, community leaders, businesses, and insurers to safeguard lives and livelihoods of the estimated 4 billion people vulnerable to climate risks. For example, the Mayor of Freetown, in Sierra Leone, committed to planting 1 million trees between 2020 and 2021.