Civil society reactions to UN Climate Ambition Summit

21 September 2023

20 September 2023: Several leaders made compelling statements at the UN Climate Ambition Summit today in New York. Leaders from Chile, Colombia and the Governor of California called out fossil fuels as the main cause of the climate crisis but some of the worst polluters- and among the richest countries – were conspicuous by their absence.
They did not make the cut to speak at the Summit which was set by the Secretary General last year reserving the mic for those who had ambitious new commitments and were on track with their climate targets. The USA, the UK, Australia, Norway and Japan were absent as were many other G20 countries.

Over the weekend, 600000 people in 65 countries rallied on the streets, demanding an end to fossil fuels. The political disconnect could not be more stark especially amidst the unrelenting climate disasters reported from across the world.

Today’s summit exposed the polluters and the laggards and laid out the work that is needed to be done by COP28 in December. In Dubai, countries must agree on an exit plan for fossil fuels, start the Loss and Damage Fund and deliver more climate finance for adaptation and a new long term finance goal.

Quotes from civil society representatives 

“At the UN Climate Ambition Summit, the world heard an unequivocal message: we are in the midst of a climate emergency and fossil fuels are the chief culprit. Yet, the urgent actions required remain elusive. As developing nations grapple with energy systems and economies entwined with fossil fuel dependencies, the call for a fair and just transition becomes increasingly pressing. The plea to operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund by COP28 this December underscores the gravity of the situation. Ambition is not merely a word—it’s an imperative that demands immediate action.”
– Harjeet Singh, Head of Global Political Strategy, Climate Action Network 

“The UN Secretary General set a high bar for entry to this summit. Clearly, some countries and entities have met it, with welcome announcements of investments and policies. Many speakers demonstrated genuine climate ambition, and shared successful implementation stories from around the world. 

“Attendance was predicated on having significant announcements to make. But the notable absence of many of the world’s biggest polluters shows the disdain they have for the care of our planet. Even while the Climate Ambition Summit was underway, the UK Prime Minister announced the weakening of net-zero policy commitments just two years after hosting COP26.

“What is clear is that in the two months or so until COP28, we must see a significant shift in political will. All leaders should take inspiration from the ambition shown at this summit and from those calling for action in the streets, and work towards a transformative agreement at COP28.”

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Climate and Energy Lead and COP20 President

“A democratic Brazil committed to fighting climate change returns to the UN General Assembly to remind the world that the climate crisis is also one of inequality and that the global south is disproportionately affected. Lula emphasized that this same global south needs the developed countries, which have grown at the expense of carbon emissions, to fulfill their already insufficient promises of funding. The message is clear: the tension over climate finance will continue.” – Stela Herschmann, Climate Policy Specialist at the Climate Observatory 

“The climate crisis intensifies, and the no-show of major emitters at the UN summit screams negligence. Planet wreckers like the Prime Ministers of Japan and the UK notably did not make it to the Climate Action Summit because they did not meet the bar for participation. We applaud The UN Secretary General for his leadership, but to the leaders of rich countries and major emitters our message is clear: we need action, not empty seats. The mantle of real leadership falls again on those least responsible for and most impacted by the climate crisis.” – Andreas Sieber, Associate Director of Policy and Campaigns

“Leaders from the world’s worst polluting countries largely rebuffed or ignored the UN Secretary-General’s challenge to bring something worthy of being included in the Climate Ambition Summit. It’s like a rich CEO wanting to board a train and not pay the fare because they think they’re above it. In this time of catastrophic planetary crisis, this climate inaction by these leaders is not just disrespectful, it’s fatal, cheap and must be called out. Everyone has skin in the climate game, but most of the G20 major emitters and Norway didn’t step up. Shame on you.”

“The Climate Ambition Summit did see some modest progress, which Greenpeace welcomes, but for the world, these pledges don’t go the distance and we remain at full speed on the highway to climate hell. Leaders of the biggest emitting countries need to accept the fossil fuel age has failed. Governments leave New York with a big urgent job to do to end new developments of fossil fuels at home and reach agreement on a fossil fuel phase out at COP28. They can and must usher in a fossil fuel free future for all – if not, we will be holding them accountable on the streets, in the courts and at COP28.” – Mads Christensen, Executive Director, Greenpeace International 

“The rich countries that have historically driven the climate crisis and are continuing to expand fossil fuels were given an opportunity by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres to demonstrate their commitment to the 1.5°C global warming limit. Instead, we saw cowardice and a staggering failure of climate leadership. The US, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Norway, responsible for a majority of planned oil and gas extraction, either arrived empty-handed or failed to attend altogether. This is a slap in the face of the more than 600000 people who marched on all 7 continents last weekend. A slap in the face of science. A slap in the face of the people displaced and dying from escalating climate catastrophes. As wealthy nations shirk their responsibilities, real leadership comes from people and countries least responsible for and most affected by the climate crisis. World leaders must finally find the courage to agree to the end of the fossil fuel era at COP28 in Dubai, before it’s too late.”  Romain IOUALALEN, Global Policy Manager, Oil Change International 

“Why isn’t it critical for the leaders to phase out fossil fuels knowing it can save 3.6 million lives that are lost to ambient air pollution worldwide every year? No new fossil fuels, No new projects, no public or private subsidies and no new approvals, permits, licenses or extensions, if we want all our children and grandchildren to live and live healthy. Giving up on fossil fuels should be worth it, if we can save 13 lives every minute globally; 3 lives in my country India alone!”– Bhavreen Kandhari, Co-Founder, Warrior Moms, India  

“We need to give the world’s children and our planet a fighting chance. This means a rapid and just transition to life-saving renewable energy. Over 90 percent of kids worldwide are breathing dirty air. The burning of fossil fuels is making our children and planet sick. The climate crisis is accelerating; so many families are suffering. We HAVE the solutions but the longer leaders delay the action required, they imperil our kids. As parents, we are tired of the backsliding and broken commitments. Our children deserve better – and will keep pushing with everything we have to protect our kids’ health, planet and futures.” Maya Mailer, Co-Director of Our Kids’ Climate, a global network of climate-parent groups  

“Major climate culprits driving fossil fuel expansion–including the US, Norway, the UK, and the host of COP28, the UAE–were glaringly absent from the Climate Ambition Summit today. If big polluters refuse to face up to the facts that fossil fuels are today’s weapons of mass destruction, and urgently step up their actions to phase out all oil, gas and coal —without loopholes or limitations—then they better lawyer up. Continuing to violate human rights as they drive us full-speed-ahead towards climate catastrophe is not just immoral, it’s unlawful. They will be called to account not just in the court of public opinion, but in the courts of law.” – Nikki Reisch, Director, Climate & Energy Program, Center for International Environmental Law 

“The absence of polluting countries like the US and China, and the otherwise sincere but woefully short ambitions of those countries present today at the Climate Ambition Summit has already set a low benchmark for COP28.  Although a lot was said about funds, finance and dollars, the big question is where is the money.? Especially for countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan that have contributed the least to the climate crises and yet arrived today with ambitious climate mitigation plans and roadmaps for resilience building.” – Sanjay Vashist, Director, Climate Action Network South Asia

“Last weekend, people worldwide gathered to tell our leaders that phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy is necessary to ensure the health and safety of present and future generations. Although thousands throughout Japan joined this call, Japanese leadership was notably absent from the speakers list of the Climate Ambition Summit. Instead of taking a proactive role in the global phase-out of fossil fuels needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, Japan instead chooses to continue extending the life of fossil fuels both domestically and abroad through false solutions like hydrogen and ammonia co-firing.” –Evan Gach, Program Coordinator, Kiko Network

“The European Commission showed up, but didn’t show up for the climate. Impacts from climate change are felt by more and more people in Europe and beyond. We need a plan to bring emissions to the lowest at a much faster pace, especially developed countries.”
“As a major emitter, given its historical responsibility for emissions and capacity to do more, the EU needs to urgently increase the ambition of its emissions reductions in line with equity: The EU and its Member States need to make use of every measure possible to further decrease emissions before 2030 in order to achieve at least -65% gross emission cuts, to reach an equitable and 1.5°C-aligned level of ambition that we need to keep the world safer. But substantial emission cuts are not enough. The EU also needs to significantly scale-up finance in the form of grants to developing countries for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage.” –Chiara Martinelli, Director, CAN Europe

“It’s a testament to the work of civil society that the Prime Minister has finally emerged from his silence and promised to table emissions cap regulations by end of year. But as we heard many leaders today explicitly name the culprits behind the climate crisis – the oil, gas, and coal industry pushing for reckless expansion at all costs – the reality is that Canada is still a long way from truly being a leader on advancing the just energy transition. Today made it clear that the world expects Canada to step up.” – Caroline Brouillette, Executive Director, Climate Action Network – Réseau action climat Canada

“It’s disappointing to see Canada recognized as a global climate leader. Despite this summer’s tragic climate disasters, governments in Canada are throwing fuel on the fire by expanding oil and gas production. Meanwhile, the federal government drags its feet on new rules that would cap and cut pollution from oil and gas companies. Real leadership means holding oil and gas companies accountable for the damage and destruction they are causing.” Julia Levin, Associate Director, National Climate, Environmental Defence Canada

“As World Leaders meet at the UN today to talk about raising climate ambition, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is at home, undermining UK promises to the British people and UK businesses to take ambitious climate action.
It is ludicrous to suggest the UK has over-delivered on climate action, and more ludicrous to suggest doing so would be anything but a fantastic outcome for UK households and businesses. Instead, in a year of worsening climate change impacts everywhere – with UK oil and gas company profits eye-wateringly high – the Prime Minister is planning to lock UK households into ever more expensive fossil fuels and inefficient homes for longer – leaving us all to suffer the escalating costs as well as the impacts of climate change. 

“The British people deserve better and so do communities and countries around the world on the frontline of the climate crisis. This is a political stunt that will backfire disastrously for the British people and undermines international cooperation on urgent climate action.” – Catherine Pettengell, Executive Director Climate Action Network UK (CAN-UK)

“Just weeks after winter has ended in Australia, the wildfires have begun. Millions of Australians suffered through a record heatwave this week in the suburbs of Sydney. Our cycle of human-induced climate impacts has accelerated and yet the Australian Government has failed to step up on our behalf. As one of the world’s leading fossil fuel exporters, it is time for Australia to show some leadership. For its own people.” – Glen Klatovsky, CEO, Climate Action Network Australia

“With the Secretary General setting a higher bar for attendance, the absence of the biggest emitting countries was glaring, and there was plenty of not-so-subtle finger pointing at foot-draggers, shady pledges and broken promises. Shutting down the space for greenwashing is a necessary start. But we have yet to see the real action and finance needed to dramatically bring down emissions and protect people from climate disasters. The fossil fuel industry rightly got a hammering. Big industrial agriculture, as the second largest contributor to global emissions, continues to fly under the climate radar, however. It’s time for industrial agriculture corporations to take their place in the climate spotlight next to fossil fuels, where they belong.”-Teresa Anderson, Global lead on climate justice, ActionAid International

“In New York, Olaf Scholz voiced his support for sustainable financing, but the applause from the global South for these rhetoric words has yet to follow. The German government must urgently stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Germany should lead the way in a fast and equitable fossil fuel phase-out and provide appropriate global co-financing. A just transition must prioritize both nature and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.” – Susann Scherbarth, Head of Climate Justice, Friends of the Earth Germany

“Fossil fuels are the cause of climate change. An obvious fact that has taken over 30 years to echo through the halls of the UN. That changed forever today – leader after leader said the climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis, and laid out plans to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Today is a game-changer for the global climate regime. No more giving credit to countries for setting targets they won’t meet. No more willfully ignoring the cause of climate change. Fossil fuel expansion must stop now, and justice and equity must be at the heart of the transition.” – Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Destination Zero & co-chair of the Global Gas and Oil Network’s International Policy Working Group.

“Algunos países del SUR global han demandado el cumplimiento de los compromisos de los mayores emisores, la importancia de la cancelación de la deuda, reformas al sistema financiero global y la eliminación de los combustibles fósiles. Todos estos son temas centrales para avanzar la acción climática, es necesario el cumplimiento de mas metas de financiamiento climático para cubrir las necesidades de los países en desarrollo en materia de adaptación, transición energética justa antes del 2030, entre otros. El tiempo se acaba y la COP28 debe responder a estos desafíos para enfrentar la crisis climática,”- Osver Polo Carrasco, miembro de MOCICC y CAN Latinoamérica

“Some countries of the Global South have demanded the major emitters to comply with their climate commitments, they have also stressed the importance of debt cancellation, reforms to the global financial system and the elimination of fossil fuels. All of these are central issues for advancing climate action, it is necessary to meet more climate finance targets to cover the needs of developing countries in terms of adaptation, just energy transition before 2030, among others. Time is running out and COP28 must respond to these challenges to address the climate crisis.”– Osver Polo Carrasco, member of MOCICC and CAN Latin America

“Global South countries made powerful statements today, underscoring the Secretary-General’s urgent call for greater climate ambition. Yet the absence of many major world leaders sends a worrying political signal at a time when the devastating toll of the fossil fueled climate crisis and the shortfall in climate action are starkly evident. For COP28 to succeed, the United States and other wealthy countries must step up their emissions reduction and climate finance commitments and agree to operationalize the climate loss and damage fund.” –Rachel Cleetus, Policy Director, Climate and Energy Program Union of Concerned Scientists

“The perspectives shared by the President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, at the Ambition Summit largely coincide with the views of the organizations that make up CAN Latin America. These calls must be reinforced by the other leaders of the global south present in this space and must be translated into actions. It is necessary that climate finance comes from public funds and that they correspond to the real dimensions of the climate crisis. The goal of 100 billion has been far from responding to these needs. The benefits of investing in climate action benefit all of humanity and all forms of life on the planet. The only loser would be the large capital built on profits generated by the fossil fuel industry, who have always been present and influential in the climate talks, precisely preventing the necessary measures from being adopted to definitively address this crisis.” – Alejandro Aleman, coordinator of CAN Latin America

“The Summit for Ambition provided a crucial opportunity to openly discuss the need to end fossil fuels in a just and equitable manner. It also emphasized the importance of rebuilding trust, and there is no doubt that this responsibility falls on the most accountable actors. Merely fulfilling old promises will not suffice; it is imperative to provide the necessary resources to the Green Climate Fund and establish a fund for losses and damages at COP28. We welcome France’s announcement of a pledge for the Green Climate Fund and remind, that it is still possible to do more between now and October 5, and of course, in addition to quantity, the quality of financing is essential and must be in the form of grants. This is the time to act.”- Gaïa Febvre, International Policy Coordinator, Réseau Action Climat France

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Dharini Parthasarathy, Global Communications Lead, Climate Action Network International at / whatsapp +918826017830 and please copy 

Climate Action Network is a global network of over 1900 civil society organisations in over 130 countries together on a mission to fight the climate crisis. Visit:  

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