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UN chief puts spotlight on ‘movers,’ excludes US, China at climate summit

New York– United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is set to convene a gathering of heads of state and business leaders recognized for their robust actions on climate change. The meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, aims to build momentum ahead of the upcoming COP28 climate summit.

Notably, absent from the list of 34 speakers representing countries at Guterres’ Climate Ambition Summit are the world’s largest emitters, China and the United States, along with the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting the COP28 gathering in December.

The summit will showcase speeches from leaders who have heeded Guterres’ call to “accelerate” global climate action. Participating nations include Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Pakistan, South Africa, and Tuvalu.

Secretary-General Guterres has emphasized that one of the primary objectives of the summit is to catalyze action from countries and companies whose climate strategies do not align with the global climate target.

Non-member states and international financial institutions will also have speaking slots, including Allianz, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the City of London, and the State of California.

US Special Envoy on Climate Change John Kerry will be in attendance but will not deliver a speech, according to a spokesperson.

The list of invited speakers has been closely guarded by the Secretary-General’s office. Guterres’ climate adviser, Selwin Hart, emphasized in an interview with Reuters that the purpose of the summit is not to “embarrass” countries or companies that did not make the cut but rather to inspire more climate action from others.

The selection criteria for leaders to speak include proposals to update their country’s pre-2030 climate plans, updated targets for achieving net-zero emissions, energy transition plans committing to no new oil, gas, or coal, and strategies for phasing out fossil fuels. New climate funding pledges or adaptation plans are also among the qualifying criteria for countries’ participation.

For businesses, cities, and financial institutions, the UN requires them to represent transition plans in alignment with UN integrity recommendations, emission reduction targets for 2025 encompassing indirect emissions, and plans to phase out fossil fuels that do not rely on carbon offsetting.

Secretary-General Guterres has been candid in his assessment of countries’ climate actions and their capacity to fulfill the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. He recently stated, “I’m not sure all leaders are feeling the heat. Actions are falling abysmally short.”

A UN report released earlier this month underscored the insufficiency of existing national emissions reduction commitments to stay within the 1.5°C threshold. To meet the goals, more than 20 gigatonnes of further CO2 reductions are needed this decade, along with a global net-zero target by 2050.

Responses from China’s mission to the United Nations and the UAE were not immediately available for comment.

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