Global climate briefing: Sunak snubs UN meetings as California moves to mandate corporate climate disclosures

To say that the past 10 days have been major for anyone interested in climate diplomacy would be an understatement.

Hot on the heels of the first-ever Africa Climate Summit, the UN released its inaugural stocktake of emissions reductions and climate adaptation pledges and actions made by governments. It made for solemn reading, confirming that only “radical” changes could keep the Paris Agreement within reach, with a lack of will from policymakers being the biggest barrier to change.

The stocktake came during the early stages of discussions at this year’s G20 Summit in India – but ultimately failed to break existing tensions and inspire a strong new agreement on accelerating the energy transition.

Here, we recap on the G20 summit and also summarise several of the other key pieces of climate diplomacy news from around the world that you may have missed during the past week.

G20 fails to send strong signals on fossil fuels


G20 leaders met this past weekend in New Delhi, India, for their annual summit. Observers reported a tense atmosphere amid the Russia-Ukraine war and the ongoing economic downturn, with challenges reaching agreements on key sustainable development topics abound.

On the energy transition, the world leaders adopted a final text including a commitment to treble global renewable energy generation capacity this decade. This target has been recommended by the International Energy Agency (IEA), and delivery would play a significant role in global efforts to deliver the Paris Agreement.

However, the final text does not indicate strong support for several of the IEA’s other recommendations, including doubling the rate of global energy efficiency improvements and making stronger moves to phase fossil fuels down and out.

The text makes no direct reference to oil and gas. It hints that nations may be able to choose to scale carbon capture while increasing oil and gas generation, instead of investing in lower-carbon generation. It also has weak wording on coal. You can read edie’s full breakdown of the language on energy transitions here.

Former Unilever boss and IMAGINE co-founder Paul Polman has stated that “the failure to commit, explicitly, to phasing out fossil fuels is an unforgivable abdication of leadership”. He called for a more detailed plan on G7 and G20 plans to cut back on fossil fuel subsidies, which reached record highs in 2022.

Activists gear up for ‘Global Fight to End Fossil Fuels’


This weekend, a series of more than 400 events are being organised across the world with the aim of mobilising action for a more rapid and just phase-out of fossil fuels.

More than 780 organisations globally are taking part in the ‘Global Fight to End Fossil Fuels’ from 15 to 17 September, with the date selected due to its position between the G20 Summit and UN meetings in New York.

All events will call for “no false solutions, no loopholes and no detours through so-called bridge fuels”.

Climate Action Network’s executive director Tasneem Essop said: “When we the people use our collective power, we can win. Let our resistance against fossil fuels in September send a loud message to the fossil fuel industry and their supporters that their time is up.”

Rishi Sunak rapped for plans to miss UN meetings in New York


Image: CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.

As noted above, the ‘High-Level Week’ component of the 2023 UN General Assembly (UNGA) will begin on Monday 18 September. World leaders and Ministers will gather to review the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, following on from a recent assessment revealing stalled progress in some areas – and backtracking in others – partly due to challenges posed by the pandemic.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed last month that he did not intend to attend UNGA, citing his busy schedule. It will be the first time in a decade that the British PM missed the meetings. Sunak is sending his deputy, Oliver Dowden, in his place.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has, reportedly, warned Sunak that the UK will need to show greater ambition if either he or Dowden are to attend the Climate Ambition Summit. This is being held in New York on Wednesday 20 September. It is a new event, tabled by Guterres over concerns that nations are failing to develop and deliver credible plans to achieve their fair share of the Paris Agreement.

The UK updated its net-zero strategy in March after the previous iteration was ruled to be unlawful at the High Court. This refreshed version is now also subject to a legal challenge by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project.

Scottish Government faces legal action over net-zero plan


Speaking of legal action on climate-related policies, the Good Law Project and the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) have confirmed plans to take legal action against the Scottish Government over weaknesses in its own net-zero delivery plans.

Scotland is aiming to reach net-zero by 2045. The legal challenge concerns the Infrastructure Investment Plan announced in 2021, which may, campaigners argue, undermine the delivery of decarbonisation.

The Good Law Project and the ERCS are asking Holyrood to present an assessment of the Plan’s carbon impact, in line with the nation’s Climate Change Act requirement for all major Government investments to align with binding emissions targets.

ERCS’s chief officer Dr Shivali Fifield said: “By failing to publish a climate impact assessment for its Infrastructure Investment Plan, the Scottish Government is leaving citizens in the dark, with no way to keep check on whether public money will be spent on projects that drive up carbon emissions.

“To the Government, we say: show us your homework. Too many times, you have over-promised and under-delivered, and in a climate emergency, the stakes are too high for wishful thinking.”

200+ organisations slam UAE for track record on human rights


California-based NGO Freedom Forward has convened more than 200 other organisations to demand more accountability for COP28 host country the UAE’s “track record of repressive behaviour”.

In an open letter, the organisations express concerns over whether this year’s COP will foster trust among visiting negoriators – and whether it will properly ensure representation of marginalised groups. The letter states that “climate justice and human rights are deeply interconnected – there cannot be one without the other.”

Freedom Forward and its peers are asking for the support of nations and states in its call to ensure that COP28 attendees are not subject to unlawful surveillance. The organisations also want support in condemning the UAE’s track record on women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, worker rights and fossil fuels.

Additionally, the letter implores the UAE to release all prisoners of conscience. At COP27 in Egypt last year, the host nation was implored to free pro-democracy activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah as he conducted a hunger strike in prison.

California passes bill increasing corporate climate disclosure requirements


All eyes were on California on Tuesday evening (12 September) as Apple hosted its annual event, unveiling the iPhone 15 among other new gadgets.

Those keeping an eye on corporate sustainability may have seen another story from Apple this week – the tech giant, along with a handful of other corporations including Microsoft and Patagonia, offered its support to a new package of legislation in California, SB 253.

The Bill passed this week, meaning that companies with $1bn+ of annual revenues or more will need to disclose their emissions across all scopes if they wish to do business in California.

A separate Bill, SB 261, has also passed. It will require US-based companies with $500m+ of annual revenues to complete and publicly publish climate risk analyses.

Also in the US, the Biden Administration has cancelled seven oil and gas licences for extraction projects in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The licences were issued under Donald Trump. Biden’s team are, however, continuing to permit the controversial  $8bn Willow Project, approved this March.

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