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UNGA 2021: What happened?

What progress has been made? Where is further action needed? And what does it all mean for COP26?

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World leaders giving speeches at UNGA - UN General Assembly - Image Via Flickr: Number10gov
World leaders giving speeches at UNGA – UN General Assembly – Image Via Flickr: Number10gov

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has unlocked positive signals and outcomes that warrant cautious optimism ahead of final meetings before COP26, including Pre-COP, the IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings and the G20. Intense diplomacy and coalition-building are needed on our three key priorities if we are to see a high ambition outcome for COP26.

What progress was made at UNGA?

Emerging consensus on the COP26 mission  

Leaders at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) and the UN Secretary General’s roundtable noted the need to address ambition gaps to 2030 in Glasgow. These are clear instructions to continue conversations on this ‘COP26 Package’ at Pre-COP this week.
Tom Evans, Climate Diplomacy Researcher

A groundswell of developing country pressure on the G20 to step up climate ambition

Notable statements from the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) injected useful pressure on major emitters to enhance their UN climate pledges (NDCs) ahead of the next round of G20 text negotiations.
Alex Scott, Climate Diplomacy Programme Lead

On the cusp of consigning coal to history

China’s commitment to no longer build coal power projects overseas questions the viability of the remaining global coal power pipeline. The No New Coal Power Compact, meanwhile, saw an initial seven countries commit to never again build a coal power station. Governments pursuing new coal should cancel their pipelines and pivot to clean energy.
Leo Roberts, Research Manager, Coal Transition

Closer to closing the gap to $100bn

The forthcoming collective Delivery Plan must address what the new US pledge to double its climate finance does not: the shortfall on the original commitment of $600bn over six years. This is a key benchmark for vulnerable countries. Donors should exceed this milestone if the world is to mobilise the trillions of dollars per annum required for the climate.
Iskander Erzini Vernoit, Climate Finance Policy Advisor 

A shift of “traditional oil and gas diplomacy” towards crucial emissions reductions

The new Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance and Global Methane Pledge are a positive first step. They need to be supported by broader diplomatic outreach towards major emitters, transparent governance and coordination mechanisms, and an accelerated transition away from fossil fuels.
Maria Pastukhova, Senior Policy Advisor, Energy Diplomacy

EU-US led announcements to vaccinate 70 percent of the world by UNGA 2022

The details on coordination and delivery are not yet clear, but this is a much-needed intervention. It comes soon after China’s commitment to providing 100 million doses for developing countries and $100m to global vaccine access initiative COVAX. However, the US plan to offer booster shots for select groups could cause other wealthy countries to follow, undercutting their efforts for global vaccine equity.
– Jennifer Tollmann, Senior Policy Advisor, Climate Diplomacy

Where next after UNGA?

Unlocking ‘financial firepower’ amidst rising geopolitical rivalry

Indo-Pacific countries will be pressured to take sides as the US-China rivalry heats up, including taking a stance on applications to join the CPTPP free-trade agreement by Beijing and Taipei. Japan and the Philippines have welcomed the new security alliance AUKUS, but Malaysia and Indonesia cautioned an escalating arms race, while India is pivoting to France.

However, great-power competition also has the potential to unlock options on infrastructure financing. Biden reiterated his commitment to the Build Back Better World initiative, whilst Xi announced a ‘Global Development Initiative’, days after the EU revealed its own ‘Global Gateway’ plans. All of this could increase funding for the energy transition of developing countries in the region. But beyond China’s Belt and Road Initiative it remains unclear how, when and from where money will be mobilised. At the IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings and the G20 Finance Ministerial in October, attention must focus on concretising how these deliver the financial firepower for global green recoveries.
Jennifer Tollmann, Senior Policy Advisor, EU & Byford Tsang, Senior Policy Advisor, China

Adaptation has been under-represented at UNGA

The Champions Group on Adaptation Finance has unlocked an emerging sense of EU leadership working with climate vulnerable countries to address the huge gaps in adaptation and resilience ahead of COP26.

While leaders statements individually featured the climate impacts all are facing, the underrepresentation progress seemed to have stagnated on the wider agenda set out by ministers at the March 2021 Climate and Development Ministerial. Civil society groups’ pre-UNGA stocktake on that agenda has left a long to-do list in the next four weeks to COP26.
Alex Scott, Climate Diplomacy Programme Lead

Room for more ambition from China

Geopolitical tensions did not prevent President Xi from making his coal commitment or derail climate diplomacy. To lend credibility to its climate targets, China will have to come forward with more action domestically. It is still home to more than half of the world’s operating coal capacity.
Belinda Schäpe, EU-China Climate Diplomacy Researcher

Biden not yet convincing the world that America is “back”

In the wake of AUKUS, Biden tried to reassure partners that as the US turns to regions like the Indo-Pacific, it will do so through multilateral cooperation. But he will likely continue pursuing both bilateral and multilateral approaches, depending on how it suits US interests. He might do well to listen to the UN speech by European Council President Charles Michel: “Brutal unilateralism too often elbows out multilateralism”.
Sarah Jackson, Policy Advisor, EU-US Climate Diplomacy

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