The White House in Washington DC

All eyes are on the White House – figuratively speaking, as the Leaders Summit is a virtual event. Photo: Xavier Duvot / Getty Images .

“Make the summit a first step towards a cooperative managed decline of fossil fuel production”
–Ploy Achakulwisut

The focus of the Leaders Summit is on “galvanizing efforts by the world’s major economies to reduce emissions” to limit global warming below 1.5°C. However, we should also recognize that this is a convening of the world’s major fossil fuel producers. 14 of the 40 countries in attendance are responsible for producing 75% of the world’s fossil fuels – the source of over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

We can expect that some of these countries will be announcing new net-zero pledges and stronger emissions reduction targets. These are important goals. But fulfilling them requires dramatic reductions in fossil fuel demand and supply, which are still far from certain.

The world’s governments are planning on continued expansion of fossil fuel production, despite research that shows that reducing fossil fuel production by 6% per year between now and 2030 will allow us to stay on track to limiting warming below 1.5°C. This production gap raises the question of how countries might cooperate to close it.

Because without international cooperation, a global wind-down of fossil fuels will likely be highly inequitable among countries. In our latest research, we find that without new policy interventions, fossil fuel production over the next two decades by countries with the highest income level – or those with the lowest dependence on fossil fuel revenues – are projected to already exceed global pathways consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.

So, what’s my pie-in-the-sky outcome of the summit? Seeing it be followed by a “first-ever global negotiation of the cooperative managed decline of fossil fuel production”, as previously proposed by US Vice President Harris.

“Acknowledge that loss and damage requires finance additional to that for mitigation and adaptation”
–Zoha Shawoo

At the Leaders Summit, President Biden will – albeit virtually – face the leaders of highly vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh and Gabon, as well as small island developing states like Marshall Islands and Antigua and Barbuda. These countries have contributed the least to climate change, and yet they bear the heaviest impacts, from extreme weather — like heavy rainfall, floods and landslides — to slow-onset events like sea level rise.

Mobilizing finance to help such vulnerable countries cope with climate impacts is crucial. The summit highlights this need, with the US’ own plan likely to include elements on private sector finance , as well as commitments to multilateral climate funds.

But in order to truly support vulnerable countries and communities in dealing with climate impacts, the US should spearhead efforts to move the issue of loss and damage finance up on the agenda of major economies .

Loss and damage is real: over 475 000 people lost their lives as a direct result of more than 11 000 extreme weather events globally between 2000 and 2019, and losses amounted to around US$2.56 trillion, according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021 . Half of the countries most affected by these impacts are Least Developed Countries, and yet financial support for compensation or rehabilitation from rich industrialized nations is currently lacking. A vicious cycle is set in motion that has the already vulnerable get ever more vulnerable to future disasters and ever less capable of reducing their own vulnerability.

Developed countries, and in particular the US, have traditionally been reticent to cede much negotiation ground on loss and damage at UN climate talks. The US can help change the tide, by acknowledging that loss and damage is real, occurring and requires financial support distinct from mitigation and adaptation.

Ideally, though, the US should go beyond this and offer a strong financial commitment for loss and damage; this would increase the credibility of the new US administration as a climate leader in the eyes of poor and vulnerable nations.

“Highlight plans to tackle air pollution as an integral part of increasing climate ambition”
–Chris Malley

The more prominently leaders at the summit highlight the potential of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by simultaneously tackling air pollution, the better.

Air pollution and climate change are inextricably linked global issues. The sources that need to be controlled to reduce greenhouse gases are also the sources of the air pollutants that affect human health. Additionally, some pollutants, such as methane and black carbon, contribute directly to both issues .

Plans for reducing air pollution can therefore go hand in hand with plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – tackling air pollution can help increase climate ambition. What’s more: reducing air pollution is a local benefit that can help build broader coalitions of support when it comes to implementing and, ultimately, realising climate ambition. Specific actions aimed at reducing emissions can also produce other development gains – on clean energy, for example, sustainable transport and health benefits from diets.

Several countries represented at the summit have already increased their climate change mitigation targets by considering the air pollution benefits of climate actions. Colombia, Chile and Mexico have all set targets in their updated NDCs to reduce black carbon. Bangladesh and Nigeria have, in turn, developed National Action Plans to reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, endorsed at ministerial and cabinet levels, which outline a concrete set of actions that can improve human health and air quality locally. Also, both Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo have developed their first quantitative assessments of the overlapping sources of greenhouse gases and air pollutants.

The leaders of those countries that have already developed ambitious national climate action plans or NDCs should highlight their plans on tackling air pollution as an important part of how they increase climate ambition. This would provide helpful, practical examples for the leaders of other countries, including both those attending and not attending the summit, who are yet to update their own national climate commitments.

“Set out how to deliver a just transition away from coal, oil and gas, and for heavy industry”
–Gökçe Mete

The Leaders Summit on Climate Change is a great opportunity to reset the way we fuel our economies.

In order for that to happen, leaders from major economies should set out how they will deliver a just transition away from coal, oil and gas, and for heavy industry. These sectors are intimately connected: heavy, energy-intensive industry will need to abandon fossil fuels in order to reach the net zero targets set by many major economies.

Decarbonization of energy-intensive industries is technically possible by combining different technologies and optimizing their deployment by sector and location. Carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS), green hydrogen, and bioenergy will all have a role to play. But turning these innovations into inevitabilities requires a critical mass of actors from different sectors. For that, public-private collaboration is key.

Leaders should seize this opportunity to outline the roles they see for their governments. They can start by de-risking investments in innovative technologies by providing tax benefits, underwriting investments, or jointly investing in projects, for example. It is crucial that governments create an enabling policy and regulatory environment for companies and investors to base their investment decisions on.

What leaders say on the topics of creating new jobs where old ones are lost, how they’re planning for this transition, and how they intend to take into account everyone and everything that will be impacted by it, is important. This is true for domestic audiences reluctant to support transition agendas; for workers; for the leaders of countries that are at a crossroads when it comes to putting an end to oil and gas production; and for the governments of developing countries, who need to hear how major economies see this working out in a way that’s beneficial, not detrimental, to their citizens.