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Climate Action Summit 2019 : Priorities and expectations

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UN Secretary-General (UNSG) António Guterres has called on leaders to join him at to the Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23, 2019 to address the climate crisis. Current emissions reductions targets are not ambitious enough to keep planetary warming below 1.5C. Guterres is organizing the summit in an effort to bolster the Paris Agreement on climate change and set the stage for the next Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will be held in Santiago, Chile, in December. The summit will bring together governments, the private sector, civil society, local authorities and other international organizations.

No room for empty discourse

Only those leaders who have concrete, realistic plans to enhance their climate ambition will be given the chance to speak at the summit, setting an important example for the rest of the world. In order to gain a slot addressing the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), leaders must commit to one of the following three actions for their jurisdictions:

  • become carbon neutral by 2050;
  • “significantly” increase its emissions reductions targets;
  • make a “meaningful” pledge to the Green Climate Fund, a pool of money provided by wealthy countries to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate disruption.

To date, 63 countries have met the conditions and are expected to take the floor.

Canada, Quebec and Montreal at the Climate Action Summit

Given that Canada is in a federal election period during the summit, the Canadian government cannot make any commitments and therefore will not be able to play an active role of being among the ambitious countries stepping up to the UNSG call for ambition. However, a Canadian delegation, led by Canada’s Climate Ambassador, Patricia Fuller, will be present.

For Quebec, Environment Minister Benoit Charette and Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Jonathan Julien will also be present. As Quebec is currently in the process of building its environmental action plan, the Plan d’électrification et de changements climatiques (PECC), these ministers will not be making any announcements, but will no doubt be inspired by the political courage and determination of the governments that will be demonstrating their climate leadership at the summit. Over the past number of years, Quebec has taken a leadership role in international climate negotiations and international climate finance, uncommon among non-state actors.

With a willingness among almost all sectors of society to face the climate crisis, mobilized citizens and renewable electricity at 99.8%, Quebec is one of the best placed jurisdictions in the world to become a leader in the fight against the climate crisis. Because of this, committing to one or more of the actions demanded by Guterres could be easier for Quebec than for other parts of the world. It could also help strengthen our competitive advantage in clean tech and innovation.

Of note, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante will be among the few municipal leaders addressing the UNGA. Currently working on its climate plan, Montreal has announced its intention to decarbonize the city’s buildings before 2050.

Quebec and Canada must step up and to respond to Guterres’ call for ambition and ensure that all actions demonstrate the political courage necessary to face the climate emergency.