‘First movers’ only: US, China, UK left off UN climate guestlist

Only five of the G20 major economies made the cut for Antonio Guterres’ Climate Ambition Summit in New York, despite pressure from big powers

US, China, UK left off UN Climate Action Summit guestlist

UN head Antonio Guterres witnesses hurricane damage in Antigua and Barbuda in 2017 (Photo credit: UN photo/Rick Bajornas)


UN chief Antonio Guterres left big players off the lineup for his Climate Ambition Summit on Wednesday, putting climate credibility above power politics.

Over 100 governments expressed an interest in speaking at the summit in New York but only 34 made the cut, with slots restricted to what the UN called “first movers and first doers”.

Of the G20 nations, only the leaders of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany and South Africa will speak. The US, China, the UK and India were among those omitted from the speaker list.

A source with knowledge of discussions told Climate Home that governments like the US and UK had urged Guterres to let them speak, but did not meet his criteria.

US, China, UK left off UN Climate Action Summit guestlist

Countries shaded green are those speaking at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, 20 September 2023

Re-heated announcements

UK leader Rishi Sunak was under pressure at home to explain his climate stance after the BBC revealed he was planning to water down key policies like phasing out gas boilers and petrol cars.

Carmakers reacted angrily to the mixed messages. Experts pointed out the UK has legally binding carbon budgets and there is strong public support for the net zero target.

Yesterday, US president Joe Biden announced nothing new on climate in his speech to the UN yesterday.

While Biden warned of the “accelerating climate crisis”, he just re-announced a climate finance pledge from 2021, a climate investment bill from August 2022 and existing initiatives the US is involved with.

He claimed that “the world is on track” to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing countries. Rich countries promised in 2009 to deliver this amount by 2020 but fell at least $17 billion short.

While developed countries say they are “confident” of belatedly meeting the pledge in 2023, this won’t be confirmed until 2025. Analysts hold the US largely responsible for the shortfall.

In their speeches yesterday, the presidents of Brazil and South Africa criticised wealthy countries for not meeting this pledge by 2020.

Rich countries ‘confident’ $100bn climate finance delivered in 2023

The world’s biggest polluter China was not on the speaker list. It has yet to publish its strategy to tackle methane emissions, which has been being drafted since at least last December.

Yesterday, China’s vice-president Han Zheng met with US climate envoy John Kerry. The US government said Kerry had called on China to “reduce emissions of super pollutants like methane”.

Axios revealed the two megapowers will convene a summit for states, provinces and cities at Cop28 climate talks in the UAE this December.

Europe and islands dominate

Of those invited to speak at the UN, over half are European countries or small islands.

Emerging economies speaking include Brazil, South Africa, Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Brazil’s leader Lula is expected to announce that he is scrapping his predecessor’s weakened climate targets and working on new and improved ones.

Lula scraps Bolsonaro’s cuts to Brazilian climate target ambition

The leaders of South Africa and Vietnam are expected to provide updates on their coal-to-clean energy funding deals with wealthy countries.

African nations speaking include Kenya, the Ivory Coast, Malawi and Cop27 host Egypt while Latin America will be represented by Chile and Colombia.

As well as governments, seven other institutions will speak including insurer Allianz, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the US state of California and the British city of London.

Read more on: UN climate talks