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Bold Action Needed Following UN Climate Ambition Summit

Heed Call of Global Marches to ‘End Fossil Fuels.’

An estimated 75,000 people took part in a march in New York City to “End Fossil Fuels” on September 17, 2023.  © 2023 Sarah Grile/HRW

On Wednesday, The United Nations held a Climate Ambition Summit in New York City alongside the annual meeting of the General Assembly. The summit broke ground for several reasons, particularly its push for governments to “stamp out fossil fuels.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres has become increasingly steadfast in his commitment to taking on the industry at the forefront of the climate crisis and launched a summit for this purpose.

“We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting, and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels,” the secretary general said at the summit’s opening.

The only Unites States government official invited to speak was California Governor Gavin Newsom, whose state recently passed a slew of climate measures and announced a lawsuit against some of the world’s largest oil companies, citing climate deception. Addressing the summit, Newsom said, “This climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis. It’s not complicated. And we need to call that out.”

Among other targets, the Climate Ambition Summit called on government leaders, especially major greenhouse gas emitters, to present updated and more aggressive pre-2030 nationally determined contributions, designed to cut national emissions, including “energy transition plans with commitments to no new coal, oil and gas; fossil fuel phase-out plans; more ambitious renewable-energy targets, and Green Climate Fund pledges.”

The summit followed several days of mass public protests, during which people took to the streets around the world in marches and actions as part of the first, “Global Fight to End Fossil Fuels.” Organizers estimate that some 600,000 people took part in over 700 protests in 65 countries on all 7 continents, calling for ambitious government action to rapidly phase out fossil fuels.

The summit yielded few new concrete pledges but should combine with the mass marches and protests to put increasing pressure on governments to ratchet up their ambitions in the run-up to COP28, the UN’s annual climate conference, hosted by the United Arab Emirates in November.

Governments should also take bold action at COP28. Fossil fuels are the primary driver of the climate crisis. All stages of fossil fuel use – exploration, extraction, production, storage, transport, refining, combustion, and disposal – can be linked to human rights harms. To uphold their human rights obligations, governments at COP28 should commit to a full, fair, and final phase out of all fossil fuels.

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