Why Australia was not invited to speak at this UN climate summit opening

The Climate Ambition Summit 2023, convened by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, aimed to accelerate action on climate change. Source: AAP / Sarah Yenesel / EPA

The UN secretary-general developed the summit as a forum to discuss climate action, with only “movers and doers” invited to speak at the opening session. Australia did not make the cut.

21 September 2023 SBS news 

  • The UN secretary-general has gathered business leaders and heads of state for a summit in New York.
  • The meeting aims to build momentum ahead of the COP28 climate summit later this year.
  • China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, India and Australia were not invited to speak at the opening.
At the opening of a United Nations summit in New York, 34 member states around the world spoke about reducing emissions amid the climate crisis.

Australia was not among them, due to a lack of concrete plans to reach net zero emissions. It was one of several countries, including the US, China and India, denied a speaking position, with that privilege reserved for “movers and doers”.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy Jenny McAllister spoke at later thematic sessions and talked about Australia’s work on adaptation and decarbonisation.
What is the Climate Ambition Summit?
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gathered business leaders and heads of state for the Climate Ambition Summit in New York, a meeting aimed at building momentum ahead of the COP28 climate summit.

The summit featured speeches from leaders responding to Guterres’ call to accelerate global climate action, including Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Pakistan, South Africa and Tuvalu.
Guterres said one of the aims was to spur action from countries and companies whose climate plans were not in line with the global climate target.

It was billed as a “no-nonsense” forum for leaders or cabinet ministers to announce specific actions that deliver on their commitments under the Paris Agreement.

In his opening speech on Wednesday, Guterres evoked 2023’s “horrendous heat” and “historic fires” , but stressed: “The future is not fixed: It is for leaders like you to write.

“We can still limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees. We can still build a world of clear air, green jobs and affordable clean power for all,” he said, referring to the target seen as needed to avoid long-term climate catastrophe.

Guterres said humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels had “opened the gates to hell”.

Why was Australia denied a speaking spot at the opening?

The bar for the speaking podium was set high, with the UN chief making clear that only leaders who had made concrete plans to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions would be allowed to speak.

After receiving more than 100 applications to take part, the UN finally released a list on Tuesday night of 34 member states and seven non-member states or financial institutions.

The speaker list did not include China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, India or Australia.
Antonio Guterres giving a speech at a podium.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told world leaders humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels had “opened the gates to hell” as he kicked off a climate meeting. Source: EPA / Miguel Rodriguez

While the United States did not take the rostrum, the state of California is being represented by Governor Gavin Newsom.

From Britain, London Mayor Sadiq Khan is also attending.

Director of Climate Analytics Bill Hare, who is attending the summit, said while the exact criteria for speakers was not clear, it was likely due to a lack of action and the continued development of fossil fuels.

“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.”
Hare said Australia does not have any real climate policies backed by legislation and regulatory requirements.

He said while the government is investing in initiatives such as grid development , more targets are needed, along with motor vehicle efficiency standards and electric vehicle rollout requirements to reduce transport emissions.

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

“That’s the big problem I see for Australia.”

Who did not attend the climate ambition summit?

Several major leaders did not bother making the trip to New York for this year’s UN General Assembly, including President Xi Jinping of China and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak from the United Kingdom, who said he was too busy.

US President Joe Biden, who addressed the General Assembly on Tuesday, sent his climate envoy John Kerry to the meeting, although Kerry was not permitted to speak in the segment reserved for “movers and doers.”
“There’s no doubt that the absence of so many leaders from the world’s biggest economies and emitters will clearly have an impact on the outcomes of the summit,” Alden Meyer of climate think tank E3G said.

He blamed competing issues — from the Ukraine conflict to US-China tensions and rising economic uncertainty — but also the lobbying power of the fossil fuel industry.

Hare said the absence of countries such as Australia and the United Nations was conspicuous amongst attendees.

“It’s a strong message that they need to get their act together,” he said.

“I think the message has been heard in capitals, and I’m hoping that these countries will be able to reconsider and come forward with stronger positions on some of the key issues.

“And the key issues include the very strong push towards an agreement on a fossil fuel phase-out.”

The event is the biggest climate summit in New York since 2019 whenGreta Thunberg stunned the world with her “How Dare You” speech before the UN.

Anger is building among climate activists, particularly younger people, who turned out in thousands last weekend for the “March to End Fossil Fuels” in New York.
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