The Guardian • Issue #2072

Unite to save the planet

Youth with placard

Photo: Alisdare Hickson – (CC BY-SA 2.0).

“If nothing changes, we are heading towards a 2.8 degree temperature rise – towards a dangerous and unstable world,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in his opening speech to the Climate Ambition Summit in New York on 20th September.

“Our focus here is on climate solutions – and our task is urgent. Humanity has opened the gates of hell. Horrendous heat is having horrendous effects. Distraught farmers watching crops carried away by floods, sweltering temperatures spawning disease, and thousands fleeing in fear as historic fires rage. Climate action is dwarfed by the scale of the challenge,” Guterres said.

“We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”

The Summit, called by the Secretary-General, was held against the backdrop of the worsening climate crisis with the aim of showcasing ‘first mover and doer’ leaders from government, industry and other organisations. Invitations to speak at the opening session were restricted to those who came with credible actions, policies and plans – and not just pledges – to accelerate the decarbonisation of the global economy and deliver climate justice.

Tellingly, Australia was not invited to speak at the first session!

It was an opportunity for governments to show the progress made and announce new commitments on climate action. While a number of countries did bring forward their commitments to reduce emissions, the outcome still fell far short of what is required to meet the 1.5°C limit.

The summit was preceded by a huge march in the streets of New York, where thousands gathered calling for an end to fossil fuels.


Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, Prime Minister of Samoa and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, noted that inhabitants of Pacific Island nations like Tuvalu and Kiribati are already being forced to relocate due to rising sea levels.

“I stand here to ensure that all people of small island developing states know that their voices are being heard on the world stage,” she said. “And we will not stop fighting for their right to remain on the lands in which the legacies of their ancestors are rooted. The lands we have every obligation to protect.”

Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, a Pacific island nation at acute risk from sea level rise, called for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. “The longer we remain addicted to fossil fuels, the longer we commit ourselves to mutual decline,” he said.

Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, said wealthy governments are nowhere near close to doing enough for the developing world. “We, the people of the Global South, are not asking for assistance,” she told the Summit. “Climate finance is an obligation and part of reparations for historical and continuing harms and injustices.”

In 2009, developed countries pledged to contribute US$100 billion in annual climate financing for vulnerable nations starting from 2020. They have not met this commitment.

Marina Silva, Brazil’s environment minister pledged to get more aggressive on the country’s emissions targets and reaffirmed plans to halt deforestation in the Amazon by 2030.

“No country should have to pick between fighting global warming or fighting poverty or hunger,” she said. “This is a false dilemma.”


Climate Analytics Director Bill Hare, who attended the summit, said, “Australia has told a good story about its policies, but they don’t stack up, emissions are increasing. And it’s promoting new coal and gas developments, and so on.

“That’s a common storyline that I can see between the countries that spoke at the Secretary-General’s climate ambition summit and those that wanted to but were not invited.”

“In a way, the Australian climate policy system is more based around announcements than real, regulatory action, driving things forward,” he said.

Australia is the largest emitter per capita in the Asia-Pacific region.

Guterres called on developed countries to reach net zero as close as possible to 2040, and emerging economies as close as possible to 2050 in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities under the Acceleration Agenda. The Acceleration Agenda brings forward deadlines for achieving just transition goals.

They also include:

  • Credible plans to exit coal by 2030 for OECD countries and 2040 for the rest of the world;
  • Ending fossil fuel subsidies – which the IMF estimates reached an incredible US$7 trillion in 2022;
  • Setting ambitious renewable energy goals in line with the 1.5 degree limit.

The Acceleration Agenda also calls for climate justice. “Many of the poorest nations have every right to be angry,” Guterres said. “Angry that they are suffering most from a climate crisis they did nothing to create.”

“Angry that promised finance has not materialised.”

“And angry that their borrowing costs are sky-high.”

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, globally three billion people are already highly vulnerable to climate change.

“The small steps countries offered are welcome, but they’re like trying to put out an inferno with a leaking hose. There is simply a huge mismatch between the depth of actions governments and businesses are taking and the transformative shifts that are needed to address the climate crisis,” David Waskow, Director, International Climate Initiative, World Resources Institute said.


The struggle for a just transition to renewables is a class struggle. At the heart of the climate crisis is more than 100 years of capitalist expansion based on the maximisation of profits through the exploitation of labour and extraction of natural resources regardless of the impact on humanity and the environment. The military industrial complex, an integral part of the capitalist system, is the single largest creator of greenhouse gases.

Capitalism caused the crisis facing humanity and the planet. Capitalism is incapable of solving the crisis and time is fast running out.

Australia must put energy resources into public ownership and management with a nation-wide plan for future development.

The government must halt and reverse the expansion of fossil fuel production and development of a weapons industry. It is no justification to say projects must be approved because of the law as Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek says. Change the law!

Australia’s economy requires a rapid restructuring to end its heavy reliance on the export of fossil fuels. Instead, switch to the development of a manufacturing sector in such areas as the expansion of renewables, manufacture of pharmaceuticals, development of innovative products based on recycling of waste, vehicle production, and advanced technologies.

The government must legislate strict limits for pollution and impose hard emissions caps to reduce them to zero by 2040, along with heavy penalties for corporations that break the law, including jail time for executives.

The AUKUS agreement and nuclear submarines must be cancelled, and in their place a merchant fleet built in Australia strengthening Australia’s self-reliance and independence.

Public transport should be free and expanded to serve outlying suburbs and rural and regional areas.

State and federal governments could build one million units of publicly controlled and environmentally sustainable housing, and upgrade existing public housing to become environmentally sound.

Saving the environment and preventing war are interconnected. They are part of the same class struggle which can only be won by united, militant action on the ground. Trade unions, environmentalists, peace activists, Indigenous Australians, and other progressives united can save humanity and the planet.

The Summit is an important lead-up to COP28 in Dubai later this year where countries will determine how further to keep the 1.5°C goal alive and address climate impacts. Australia still has time to show leadership with concrete actions.

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