Ahead of the summit, Antonio Guterres had unveiled his Acceleration Agenda, saying only 'movers' and 'doers' would be allowed to attend
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' Climate Ambition Summit on Wednesday highlighted two key aspects -- the conspicuous absence of leaders from major emitter nations and a unanimous call by attending leaders to phase out fossil fuels.
Guterres' "no-nonsense summit", ahead of COP28 in Dubai, came at a time when the world is reeling from the devastating impacts of climate change and probably the hottest year on record.
"Humanity has opened the gates to hell," Guterres said during his opening remarks, warning that the world is heading for a 2.8-degree-Celsius warming in a business-as-usual scenario.
However, leaders from some of the world's largest polluting nations, the US and China, were conspicuously absent from the summit, convened to reinvigorate efforts to combat the climate crisis.
Notable omissions also included leaders from the UK, Japan, France and India. Among the top carbon emitters, only the European Union received an invitation.
Ahead of the summit, a report by Oil Change International revealed that five Global North countries -- the US, Canada, Australia, Norway and the UK -- account for 51 per cent of the planned expansion from new oil and gas fields through 2050.
The report says these rich nations must halt expansion immediately, prioritise production phase-outs and contribute fairly to global energy transition funding. Failure to do so could result in 173 billion tons of carbon pollution, equivalent to over 1,100 new coal plants' lifetime emissions or more than 30 years of US annual carbon output, being released.
Though the Climate Ambition Summit represented a critical opportunity for the largest emitters of carbon to ratchet up ambition, only those least responsible and most harmed by the climate crisis made an effort.
COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber, addressing the closing session, said the recent technical report on the first-ever Global Stocktake reconfirmed the world is off track and that countries must act with solidarity to "turn pledges into projects" and "go after the gigatonnes and not each other".
The gathering saw nearly every head of state emphasising the necessity of phasing out fossil fuels.
Prominent figures such EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Chile President Gabriel Boric, Tuvalu prime minister Kausea Natano and Republic of Marshall Islands president David Kabua all stressed the urgency of this transition.
Key issues such as tripling of global renewable energy capacity and phasing out fossil fuels are expected to take centrestage at COP28 in November-December.
Canada prime minister Justin Trudeau faced questions about his country's recent expansion of oil production.
He responded by committing to introduce oil and gas emissions cap regulations by the year-end and exceeding Canada's current methane reduction target of 75 per cent by 2030.
Leaders present at the summit outlined comprehensive actions across their economies -- from promoting renewables to electrifying transportation, regulating methane emissions, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and investing in adaptation.
Chile president Boric said, "The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis, so we need to leave fossil fuels behind. That, in very specific terms, means we have to react to the greenwashing that major businesses are undertaking."
Tuvalu prime minister Natano said, "The longer we remain addicted to fossil fuels, the longer we commit ourselves to mutual decline."
Barbados prime minister Mia Mottley, an advocate for reforming international financial institutions through the Bridgetown Agenda, called on more leaders to take concrete steps in reforming multilateral development banks and the role of finance and insurance companies in climate action.
She urged the world to address the climate crisis with the same urgency as the conflict in Ukraine and said borrowing money to respond to climate loss and damage is almost a crime against humanity.
Kenya president William Ruto proposed a universal fossil fuel tax to fund resilience, adaptation and transition efforts.
Oliver Bate, the CEO of Allianz, emphasised the urgency of phasing out coal and significantly reducing oil and gas use.
In a passionate address, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared the climate crisis as a fossil fuel crisis and criticised the oil industry's manipulation.
"This climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis ... It's not complicated. It's the burning of oil. It's the burning of gas. It's the burning of coal. And we need to call that out. For decades, the oil industry has been playing each and every one of us in this room for fools," he said.
Amanda Starbuck, a member of the UN secretary-general's High-Level Expert Group on net zero, said the summit was a platform for first "movers and leaders" but the most notable piece was who was "not" in the room.
"We have heard hundreds of financial institutions claim that they are going 'net zero' but few have demonstrated real credibility and implementation -- which was the price of a ticket to the summit," she said.