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Making climate action work

The UN Climate Action Summit aims to accelerate action to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and to get to net zero emissions by 2050. What should leaders from governments, business and civil society prioritize? SEI has gathered evidence-based insights and solutions that can be applied across the action tracks of the summit.

Photo: UN Photo / Flickr.

Date published
20 September 2019

The world is not on track to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement – namely to limit global warming to “well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels,” and strive to limit it to 1.5 degrees. In a bid to build political momentum towards achieving this goal, UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has called world leaders to New York and challenged them set out how they intend to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.

What should leaders from governments, business and civil society prioritize at the UN Climate Action Summit ? SEI has gathered evidence-based insights and solutions that can be applied across the summit’s action tracks .


Global greenhouse gas emissions show no sign of peaking. In fact, global CO2 emissions from energy and industry increased in 2017. At the summit, all countries are supposed to ramp up their commitments to reduce emissions. These commitments are known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs. What does mean to enhance an NDC? How it can be done? What role can land use play?

Energy transition

The UN Secretary General is calling on countries to stop building coal-fired power stations . But according to SEI research, governments are actually expanding the production of coal, oil and gas. Yet winding down coal-fired energy and making the pathway out of coal sustainable and just is possible. Here’s how.

Industry transition

Industry represents 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The sector has a decisive role to play in getting to net-zero emissions. SEI’s research shows how to decarbonize industries such as steel and cement.

Climate finance

It is clear that getting to net-zero emissions requires more public and private finance. At this stage, however, it is still hard to figure out which donor is spending how much money on what and where to what effect. That’s where SEI’s new tool comes in: an easy-to-use, interactive platform visualizing all development finance flows.


Low-carbon measures in cities could deliver over half of the emission reductions needed to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. That’s according to the Urban Opportunity report by the Coalition for Urban Transition to which SEI contributed. We also look at how the creative arts can be used to make a city a better place with better air and lower emissions.

Resilience and adaptation

Climate change is already impacting our lives: extreme weather events are becoming ever more frequent and extreme, destroying infrastructure, crops and livelihoods. Countries have to adapt to these impacts in order to become resilient – but adaptation should not be up to the governments of climate-vulnerable countries alone.

The road ahead

The devil is in the detail – that’s as true for taking climate action as for anything else. While it is easy for a government to enhance its NDC, it is much harder for it to actually take all the steps needed to reduce emissions. It is already difficult to close a mine, and becomes yet more challenging to do so in a way that leads to a more equitable society. But decarbonizing heavy industry and mobilizing finance should be seen as huge opportunities on the path to net-zero emissions and for developing sustainable, prosperous and equal societies.

Governments, cities, businesses and civil society all have to do their bit. The role of SEI is to deliver knowledge, capacities and solutions that enable all actors to maximize these opportunities and make climate action work for all.