UN General Assembly Convening Critical for Climate Action, Robust US Climate Finance Commitment Needed

Statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Sep 17, 2021

WASHINGTON—World leaders will gather in New York City for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, September 21—a convening that allows member nations to address the governing body on the world’s most pressing matters, including the worsening climate crisis and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Below is a statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus, a policy director in the Climate and Energy Program and a lead economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Dr. Cleetus has been attending the U.N.’s international climate talks and partnered with the international community on climate and energy policies for more than 14 years.

“World leaders must act decisively and boldly to address the climate crisis without delay. As people around the world reel from devastating and costly climate impacts, the upcoming U.N. General Assembly meeting provides a critical moment for richer nations like the United States to make concrete climate commitments. We urge President Biden to step up to the nation’s responsibility as the world’s largest historical emitter of heat-trapping emissions and pledge at least $12 billion per year by 2024 for international climate finance. This much-needed funding can help developing nations make a low-carbon transition and increase their resilience to climate impacts.

“The world is also looking to major emitting countries, including the United States and China, to enact domestic policies that drive sharp cuts in their heat-trapping emissions. The U.S. Congress has a monumental opportunity to enact legislation currently under consideration that would deliver tremendous public health, economic and climate benefits at home, while advancing global efforts to tackle climate change. The $3.5 trillion reconciliation package includes significant climate provisions that must be secured for the good of the nation and the world. Congress should also appropriate at least $3.3 billion this year towards international climate finance.

“The science couldn’t be clearer that the window to limit global average temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius is shrinking every day and countries’ emissions reduction pledges are falling far short of what is necessary. Intensifying storms; catastrophic wildfires; and worsening droughts, heatwaves, and floods are already taking a tremendous toll on people, economies and vital ecosystems. For those who live in poverty or are otherwise marginalized, these dire impacts are colliding now with the unyielding COVID-19 pandemic and an economic crisis creating an even more desperate and unjust situation.

“While a diverse global coalition of civil society groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, have called for the postponement of the annual U.N. climate talks in November due to concerns around public health, unequal access for participants, and global vaccine inequity, this in no way takes the pressure off President Biden, the U.S. Congress and policymakers in other nations to deliver on climate action this year. The single biggest imperative for richer nations like the United States is to enact domestic policies that cut emissions and ramp up climate finance, which can in turn encourage greater ambition from other countries.

“While not a substitute for the U.N. venues, the United States should also look to advance climate action in other international fora such as the Major Economies Forum and the G20 summit, as well as in direct engagement with other countries. The newly announced Global Methane Pledge championed by the United States and the European Union, which aims to cut emissions of this potent heat-trapping gas by at least 30 percent below 2020 levels by the end of the decade, is an important example of such forward progress.”