Civil society representatives react to the Leaders’ Climate Summit

23 April 2021

April 22, 2021: The Leaders’ Climate Summit today brought together over 40 world leaders to outline ambitious and new actions that will steer the world to a 1.5C pathway. Current climate targets, including announcements made today by the US, Japan, and Canada, fail to meet that level of ambition to avert climate catastrophe. These are simply not aligned with the science or based on their fair share.

As emphasised by Bangladesh, Indonesia, and South Africa, developing countries need adequate finance to meet their climate and development goals. Likewise, vulnerable countries called for debt relief and renewed cooperation in view of the climate impacts they are suffering caused by climate change that these countries have contributed the least to.  While the US announcement to double climate finance by 2024 is welcome, that money is needed starting this year. Overall, the summit fell short on announcing any new and additional finance that substantially builds on existing financial pledges to drive momentum on climate action and an adequate response to the losses and damages vulnerable countries face.   

With the US back in the international climate game, this summit has opened an important space for reviving climate diplomacy and must set the tone for renewed efforts in the next months. This means commitments on new and additional finance and finance for addressing Loss and Damage as a key pillar of action under the Paris Agreement.  

Quotes from CAN members 

“President Biden’s pledge to cut domestic emissions 50-52% by 2030 falls woefully short of what’s necessary to meet the massive scale of the climate emergency. Solving the climate crisis requires applying both science and equity. The U.S. is the largest historic polluter and one of the wealthiest nations, and it must do its fair share and slash domestic emissions by at least 70% by 2030 and substantially finance the Global South’s decarbonization to pay the balance of its hefty climate debt. Combating the climate emergency at home also requires transforming our economy by moving immediately to end the fossil fuel era and create a renewable and anti-racist energy system that advances justice first.” – Jean Su, Center for Biological Diversity, Energy Justice Director, 

“The Australian people are so disappointed that our Government came to this historic summit with pledges that are patently inadequate and promises to throw even more money to subsidise old industries like coal and gas. Australia faces worse droughts, worse fires, worse heat waves and the loss of the Great Barrier Reef if climate change is allowed to continue. Prime Minister Morrison could take advantage of Australia’s pre-eminent renewable resources, creating new industries and jobs and make a safe and prosperous Australia by putting in place a plan to reduce Australia’s emissions by two thirds in this decade. There are more chances this year, including the Glasgow COP in November, and we hope the Morrison Government will take them. Our future relies on it.” – Julie-Anne Richards, Executive Director, Climate Action Network Australia. 

“Japan has announced it will cut emissions by 46% below 2013 levels by 2030, and take on the challenge of reaching 50%. This is a significant step in the right direction, but still not sufficient to be Paris- 1.5˚C aligned. Japan needs to enhance the target further to the Paris compatible level, meaning 60% or more, in the lead up to the G7 and COP26. The announcement should certainly spur discussions on Japan’s coal phase-out. Japan is the only G7 country which doesn’t have a coal phase out vision. Since the EU, US, and UK have also increased their 2030 emissions targets, Japan needs to keep pace and exit from coal-fired electricity by no later than the end of this decade.” – Kimiko Hirata, International Director, Kiko Network, Representative, CAN Japan

“Brazil leaves the leaders’ summit as it entered it: discredited. Bolsonaro spent half of his speech asking the world for money for previous governments’ environmental achievements, the same ones he has been trying to undo from the day he was sworn in.”
– Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of Observatório do Clima

“After years of U.S. federal inaction to address its role in the climate crisis, today the Biden administration has presented all of us with significant reason for hope. This necessary and achievable goal is an important signal that the U.S. is ready to be a responsible partner on climate action with the global community. 

Bold action could also help mobilize a coalition of high-ambition nations, giving us a fighting chance of keeping global climate goals within reach during this consequential decade.”  Bold action could also help mobilize a coalition of high-ambition nations, giving us a fighting chance of keeping global climate goals within reach during this consequential decade. – Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Lead Climate & Energy

“Reducing U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases by 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is a floor to build upon. Clear and compelling science tells us that deeper cuts are essential to stave off the worst climate impacts and ensure the world’s largest cumulative emitter of global warming pollution is doing its fair share. In addition to reducing emissions, the United States has a responsibility to deliver on funding for developing countries as they transition toward a clean energy future and cope with the impacts of climate change. Communities on the frontlines of worsening heatwaves, storms, flooding, wildfires and drought cannot afford anything less than an all-in effort.” – Rachel Cleetus, Policy Director & Lead Economist, Climate and Energy Program, Union of Concerned Scientists,

“It is good to see World Leaders talking about the climate crisis again. But despite nice words all indications are still that we are heading towards a 2.5°C world and more action needs to be taken by all. European governments need to seize the opportunity of more countries engaging in the debate to revise and increase their contribution to global climate action. For the EU this means going well beyond 55% as real efforts to reach the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C will need reductions of at least 65%. Furthermore we need to see a substantial increase of climate finance commitments from rich European countries towards developing countries.” – Wendel Trio, Director, Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe. 

“At POW we love our outdoors, not only because they allow us to do the outdoor sports we love and for their natural beauty, but also for the important ecological services they provide to all humanity. Yet, in all mountain regions in the world glaciers are disappearing, snowpack’s shrinking and freshwater resources declining. Not being able to ski will be the least of our concerns when our winters are gone. We therefore expect European leaders at the Biden Climate Summit to lead the way on a new path, step up and commit to the big systemic changes we all need for a livable future. The EU’s new target of 55% is a step in the right direction, but science is clear – we need to cut emissions by 65% by 2030, along with substantial increases in climate finance. This means implementing tangible, concrete actions. Now. Globally.” – Sören Ronge, European Coordinator, Protect Our Winters (POW) Europe. 

“There can be no meaningful climate action if world leaders don’t make a decisive plan to keep all fossil fuels in the ground. Talk of “net-zero” and emission reduction commitments won’t cut it: we demand more from our world leaders than false promises, false solutions and empty negotiations at Biden’s Climate Summit. The task now is to hold politicians to their lofty words,  and to do that the global climate movement needs to keep up the pressure on our governments at home as well as on the international stage to take urgent action now to reduce carbon emissions and ensure a Just Recovery by creating a sustainable, fossil-free world ”. – Agnes Hall, Global Campaigns Director at 

“Despite numerous statements by world leaders on the importance of tackling the climate emergency, current global commitments are predicted to lead to a warming of 3c with terrifying consequences. Emissions are set to continue to increase this year as govts direct trillions in Covid economic recovery plans to polluting industries. Solving the climate crisis and reducing emissions fairly requires more than empty promises by the world’s biggest polluters. It needs concrete plans backed by finance that set out their decarbonisation plans for 2030.

Neither the UK nor the US can claim to be a real climate leader by making green pledges if they aren’t backed up by strong policies to transform their economies.  Our studies show that the intended promises being made at the Summit are far from the scale of effort needed. 

All over the world citizens are calling on govts to change track and back policies that are good for the planet, can help fix the broken economy, deliver new green jobs and create a safer world. Leaders will be judged on their actions, not on their warm words.” – Asad Rehman COP26 UK Coalition 

“The Biden administration’s new climate target to halve emissions by 2030 is more ambitious than any previous commitment by the US government. Yet it is still deeply insufficient to meet the realities of the climate crisis.
“ActionAid is calling on the US to commit to its ‘fair share’ of climate action – a 70% emissions cut by 2030, plus financial support so that developing countries can transition to greener economies and adapt and recover from the devastating impacts of climate change.
“As the world’s biggest historical emitter, the US has a responsibility to the most vulnerable nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis. The US has long been a barrier to stronger global climate action. For the Biden administration to turn this around and show real leadership, they must go much further on emission reductions and climate finance.” – Brandon Wu, Director of policy and campaigns, ActionAid USA

“History has to be made at Biden’s Earth Day Summit. True climate leadership requires laws and regulations to phase out fossil fuels, end deforestation, and restore nature. Our survival depends on real climate action – voluntary net-zero targets and offsets are just delaying tactics. 

To get closer to the 1.5 pathway, significant political will and action are required. The world’s richest countries must do more than just halve their emissions by 2030, having profited from extractive and polluting industries leading to the climate crisis. It’s time for the wealthiest nations to repair the damage and show solidarity with vulnerable countries. 

The Net-Zero Banking Alliance is a very weak voluntary initiative. Among the flaws, targets don’t need to be aligned with 1.5C or cover off-balance sheet activities such as underwriting. Regulators have to step in to transform the banking sector from leading on greenwashing to leading on climate.”  – Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International

“We welcome the US back to the climate table. Climate promises are rising like the sea, but what’s on the table is not enough, and global warming is still racing away, further damaging vulnerable communities.
“The EU’s claim to global climate leadership is looking tenuous – with commitments in the new EU climate law falling far short of delivering a fair share of climate action and of keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Europe will have to drastically step up emissions reductions and finance for poorer countries while discarding unrealistic distractions like carbon offsets and carbon capture.”  Susann Scherbarth, climate justice campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, 

“President Biden’s commitment may seem ambitious for Washington, but it is sharply inadequate and deeply unjust for the billions living in the Global South. It stands in stark contrast to his expressed commitment to center environmental justice in his approach to government. Biden must go back to the drawing board and present a Nationally Determined Contribution in which the U.S. does its fair share to keep the world on a path to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”  – Karen Orenstein, Climate and Energy Program Director at Friends of the Earth U.S., 

“It is heartening to see the US back at the table on climate, and we welcome President Biden’s commitment to environmental justice and to a whole of government approach to the climate crisis. The US’ pledge to cut domestic emissions by 50% by 2030 is a first step in concrete climate action, but this target still falls short of what science says we need in order to meet the Paris Agreement commitment to limit warming to 1.5C. We need more ambitious commitments from the big emitters and more binding plans on climate finance, fossil fuel phase outs, and nature restoration which match the urgency of the crisis we face. Because while summits and fine speeches are nice, they are not enough to provide justice and protection to those communities already being affected first and worst by our addiction to carbon.” – Steve Trent, Environmental Justice Foundation Executive Director,

African leaders must do more than just be at the table of biodiversity and climate summits. We need them to be serious about tackling emissions at home and unequivocal about protecting their country’s natural biodiversity in order to tackle a climate crisis which has the continent seeing worse and worse extreme weather impacts every year. Protecting biodiversity at home means making hard decisions, such as banning new fossil fuel infrastructure and making sure local communities and Indigenous People are empowered to protect their ancestral lands. For non-African leaders at the summit, while our Presidents may push for financial support, because African countries are particularly attuned to the impacts of climate change which is perpetrated by the West, there can be no resilient green recovery without debt relief.” – Melita Steele, Greenpeace Africa Programme Director

“In his statement today, UN Secretary General Guterres highlighted the importance of developed countries raising finance for climate adaptation in developing countries. CARE underscores how vital this is, because we see how the most marginalised communities who have contributed least to the problem are already facing the most severe consequences. This and subsequent summits, such as the G7 and COP26, need to deliver new financial commitments as part of an urgently needed roadmap to deliver 50bn USD from budget sources for climate adaptation,” – Sven Harmeling, CARE International’s Global Policy Lead for Climate Change

“It is great to see world leaders coming together for the purpose of declaring climate ambitions. But the world leaders seem to be stuck in the process of getting new and new commitments instead of actually changing the politics on the ground step by step. Russia is the only country from the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia who has been invited to the Summit and needless to say, Russia does not have an ambitious climate policy. I hope more countries from the EECCA region are involved in such high-level events and that the focus of the events would turn from promises to results.” – Olga Boiko, CAN EECCA Node Coordinator 

“The Leaders Summit must reflect the leadership that the world needs in terms of climate action. The leaders must be, by definition, representing their citizens and their needs and struggles. We need leaders who can overcome their differences and strive to create a fair, equitable and sustainable life for their people and for the world.  The climate summit needs to push forward ambitious actions and narratives that can support communities mainly in the global south who are more vulnerable to climate change impacts.” – Fatima Ahouli, CAN Arab World Regional Coordinator. 

“It’s good to see Canada driving up ambition and it’s not enough. The new target is not aligned with a 1.5oC compatible future – that would require a 60% emissions reduction goal. We hope to see Canada continue to ramp up ambition, both in future years and as NDC consultations occur in coming months on the road to Glasgow. Canada not only needs to improve its climate targets, but also pass strong legislation to meet those targets. Canada’s proposed Net-Zero Accountability Act, currently stalled in Parliament, must be strengthened as it contains more of a duty to report than a duty to achieve. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted, Canada is an energy exporting nation and that is one of the country’s main barriers to climate ambition. Canada’s new NDC should address emissions from oil and gas production, ban fossil fuel subsidies, and enshrine Just Transition legislation.” – Catherine Abreu, Executive Director, Climate Action Network Canada 

“Young people around the world are watching the Leaders Climate Summit. What is currently on the table is not enough to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius. We need deep, transformative, global action that centers frontline communities to adequately address the climate crisis. Otherwise we will not have a future to look forward to. Climate change is happening now. Now, it is about managing impacts from the losses and damages the most vulnerable face, helping communities adapt, and bringing emissions down.” – Natalie Lucas, Executive Director, Care About Climate, USA,

“This proposed NDC doesn’t cut it. Real climate leadership looks like the U.S owning up to its historical responsibility for fueling the climate crisis and committing to do its Fair Share. That looks like bold, deep and real emissions cuts in the US and supporting countries around the world in responding to the climate crisis and transitioning off fossil fuels. It does not look like backing more polluter-driven schemes and false solutions like “net zero”. We are running out of time and we need real climate solutions now.” – Sriram Madhusoodanan, U.S. Climate Campaign Director, Corporate Accountability,

“President Biden’s new climate target demonstrates that he and his administration are serious about tackling the climate crisis – but the hard work is just beginning. While this new commitment is a positive step in the right direction and worth celebrating, more action is urgently needed to avert dangerous climate change impacts that are already disproportionately harming those who are most vulnerable, especially women and marginalized communities. The richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. Yet it is the world’s poorest who are hit the hardest by the impacts of climate change. As the world’s richest country and largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, the US owes it to the world’s most vulnerable to increase its emissions reductions target in order to prevent additional climate change impacts.”– Abby Maxman, President and CEO of Oxfam America

“True climate leadership requires a full reckoning with the realities of what’s driving our climate crisis: fossil fuels. Without a robust plan from rich countries in particular to ramp down fossil fuel production and ramp up support for communities for a just transition to a renewable energy economy, any conversation about ‘climate leadership’ is incomplete at best, or misleading at worst. We’re pleased to hear countries recommit to the 1.5ºC Paris goal and ramp up their emission reduction commitments, however we are gravely concerned after today’s statements that there is still limited willingness to actually stop digging the climate hole we find ourselves in.

Continued fossil fuel production impacts those on the frontlines of extraction and related infrastructure every day, adding to the historic injustices our extractive economy has perpetuated. Today’s session on ramping up ambition came up short, and we call on all world leaders to quickly catch up to the reality that we must stop spending public money on fossil fuels and start the fossil fuel production phase out and just transition for communities immediately.” – David Turnbull, Strategic Communications Director, Oil Change International

“Our faith guides us to care for God’s creation, but the production, transportation, and combustion of fossil fuels are causing extreme and catastrophic changes to the planet’s climate system and harming the health of women and children in the U.S. and around the world. Currently, 80 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels, but we must urgently transition to a 100 percent renewable energy economy across all sectors that is centered on equity and justice. The Biden Administration has pledged to reduce emissions by 50-52 percent by 2030, but the science is clear that to stay under 1.5oC, U.S. emissions reduction must be more ambitious. The U.S. is the largest historic polluter of greenhouse gas emissions, and as women of faith we urge the Biden Administration and Congress to commit to its fair share and pledge to reduce emissions by 70% by 2030 using only truly clean energy sources like solar and wind.” – Elizabeth Chun Hye LEE, Executive, Economic and Environmental Justice, United Methodist Women,

“Mexico’s participation in the Leaders Climate Summit lacked leadership in addressing climate change leaving much to be desired. There was no further commitment in terms of ambition, responsibility and climate justice. Responsibility to present and future generations continues to be evaded by ignoring the need for a  serious energy transition. On the contrary, the Mexican President announced a continuation of exploiting fossil fuels to the extent of what is needed, a subjective expression open to any type of anti-climatic action”- Anaid Velasco, Legal Research Manager, Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental,  (Mexican Center for Environmental Law). 

“Bolsonaro lied when he said that Brazil is at the forefront of the climate efforts. It may have been true someday, but not in his government, which has been consistently attacking the policies and state agencies necessary to stop deforestation and lead the energy transition. He talked much about the past achievements of Brazil and too little about the future, not to mention that in the present, his environmental record is a disaster.”- Ilan Zugman, Latin America Managing Director of, based in Brazil

“What stood out in President Fernández’s speech was the fact that he did not mention any change in the government’s policies of investment in the expansion of oil and gas extraction in the Vaca Muerta area. Taxpayers’ money has been subsidizing a highly ineffective and environmental harmful operation, which benefits a few foreign companies and brings no development to the country or even the region where it is based. These billion dollars wasted every year in fossil fuels should be redirected to policies of energy transition, that are able to create more jobs in a moment when Argentinians desperately need it.” – Ignacio Zavaleta, Campaigner in Argentina.

Argentina brought to the summit a small improvement of its recent NDC and new sectoral measures. While many of them are encouraging, they do not match what’s happening within the country. Argentina should increase its ambition. 

Addressing the losses and damages generated by climate change is a must for vulnerable regions like Central America and the Caribbean, which have recently been strongly impacted by meteorological phenomena that have left a wave of destruction with no precedent in our countries. Indigenous/afro descendant peoples and local communities that have little or no responsibility in the generation of this problem have been the ones receiving the worst impacts of these phenomena.

In CAN Latin America we strongly demand global leaders to recognize the rights of these communities to receive compensation for the losses and damages generated by climate related phenomena. This recognition must also imply the delivery of concrete financial commitments to deal with losses and damages in vulnerable countries, as well as the delivery of the appropriate mechanisms and safeguards to guarantee that these resources benefit indigenous/afro descendant peoples and local communities, with particular emphasis on the ones that are most vulnerable – Alejandro Aleman, CAN Latin America node Coordinator, 

Near death experiences can concentrate the mind, and it seems the Trump years have done exactly this. So think of the global push for national net zero 2050 pledges. It’s a great push, and we needed it, but there’s a problem: some countries are fantastically rich, while others are not; some countries have emitted huge amounts of greenhouse gases, while others have not, yet the international pressure to achieve a universal push for unconditional national net zero 2050 targets takes little account of these defining facts.  

What’s the solution? A global public climate finance breakthrough would be a good place to start. The Leader’s Summit saw lots of ideas on this front, and some of them were great. You’ll need to concentrate while we sort this out, but don’t forget the scale of the problem. 

The US Fair Shares NDC calls for the US to contribute at least $800 billion in international climate finance between 2021-2030, a sum to be equally split among mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage, and for the U.S. to use this “down payment” to lobby other wealthy countries to reply in kind, with fair share contributions of their own. 
It’s not a lot of money. – Tom Athanasiou, Executive Director, EcoEquity, USA


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