Youth Climate Summit at the United Nations in New York, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (Photo/Stuart Ramson for UN Foundation)

The UN Climate Action Summit, Explained

As in every year, the United Nations General Assembly is an annual opportunity for heads of state to come to the United Nations to meet each other and address the world.

What distinguishes the UN General Assembly this year is a series of key events and meetings focused on climate change. Of these events and meetings the most high profile is what is known as the UN Climate Action Summit. This takes place on September 23.

The UN Climate Action Summit is expected to be the most substantive global meeting on climate change since the 2015 Paris Climate Accords.

The Agenda of the UN Climate Action Summit

Some 60 government leaders and scores of civil society and business leaders will deliver remarks from the General Assembly hall. But there is a catch: to have been invited on stage by the Secretary General, those delivering the remarks needed to present a tangible action plan around some aspect of climate change. As the Secretary General has been fond of saying, this is an action summit where leaders are supposed to bring plans — not just deliver speeches.

For months, key players in the Secretary General’s office and at the United Nations more broadly have been vetting officials applications to speak to ensure that the speakers are offering concrete deliverables for which they can be held accountable.

UN officials have been extremely tightlipped about the announcements that are expected at the summit. But two days before the proceedings, they did release a speaker schedule and draft agenda that featured major world leaders like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UK’s Boris Johnson, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, among the dozens of heads of state at the summit. Other non-heads of state and sub-national leaders include Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante and the CEO of Alianz. (Full draft agenda here.)

After the day concludes, the Secretary General will offer a summary of all of the initiatives launched and new pledges made.

This episode of the Global Dispatches podcast explains just what that Climate Action Summit entails and what to expect from this major climate meeting at the United Nations.

On the line with me to discuss the significance of this summit and what it hopes to achieve is Cassie Flynn, she is the strategic advisor on climate change in the executive office of the UN Development Program, UNDP. She has been involved in aspects of planning the summit and in this conversation offers a curtain raiser for the summit itself, and discusses some of the broader expectations for this event.

The Climate Action Summit at the UN is the capstone to several climate related events happening at the UN, including a Youth Climate Summit that will feature young leaders from around the world. In this conversation we discuss how these events relate to each other and directly to the Paris Climate Accord.

If you have twenty minutes and want to better understand the UN Climate Action Summit, have a listen.


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This podcast episode is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story. Covering Climate Now parters are free to reproduce this episode.