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Nine must-read stories ahead of the UN’s Climate Ambition Summit

The urgency to cut emissions has never been greater, but the UN has its own actions to answer for.

A man holds a sign that reads "CLIMATE SOS" as activists mark the start of Climate Week in New York during a demonstration calling for the U.S. government to take action on climate change and reject the use of fossil fuels in New York City, New York, U.S., September 17, 2023. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
A man holds a sign as activists mark the start of Climate Week with a demonstration in New York calling for the US government to take action on the climate crisis and reject the use of fossil fuels, on 17 September 2023.

At tomorrow’s Climate Ambition Summit at the UN headquarters in New York, Secretary-General António Guterres will call on governments and businesses to accelerate their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5C degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The urgency to cut emissions has never been greater, but the UN has its own actions to answer for.

Last week, The New Humanitarian and Mongabay released an investigation that calls into question the UN’s claims of being almost entirely climate neutral. Those claims are based on buying millions of carbon offset credits – including from large-scale hydropower projects – that experts say do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We also identified at least 13 carbon offsetting projects that received UN funds that have been linked to reports of environmental damage, displacement, or health problems – all issues the UN routinely works to prevent or mitigate.

“It looks like there is little credibility in the UN’s [climate neutrality] claim based on the carbon credits that they have used,” said Gilles Dufrasne, of Carbon Market Watch, a watchdog group, referring to the high number of large-scale wind and hydropower credits in the UN’s portfolio. “I would qualify these as junk credits.”

We also found that many UN entities had little knowledge or oversight of the carbon credits they were purchasing. Many were also purchased at rock-bottom prices – bargains that experts say should raise red flags.

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment David Boyd called the investigation’s findings “very troubling” and urged the UN to launch an independent inquiry into its offset purchases, with results to be made public.

Tomorrow’s Climate Ambition Summit, as well as the COP28 meeting starting on 30 November in Dubai, offer opportunities for the UN, governments, and business leaders to discuss and hopefully correct actions that are contributing to the climate crisis.

This selection of our recent coverage offers additional context, with both reporting from the ground to demonstrate how climate change is causing and exacerbating humanitarian crises, and analysis of what can be done to limit further damage.

Is the UN really climate neutral? No.

Millions of UN-bought carbon credits don’t reduce emissions, while some projects that issued them are accused of doing environmental damage.

Reform, climate, and prevention: Three key themes as UNGA kicks off

Geopolitics may grab the headlines, but the relevance of the UN in building consensus and resolving crises is increasingly being tested.

It’s not just the economy, stupid! What was off-key about the Africa Climate Summit

The real question, one attendee said, is how to respond to the rich world’s intransigence over emissions and prepare for the inevitable consequences.

What’s Unsaid | The UN is not climate neutral

Our latest investigation reveals why the UN’s climate neutrality claims don’t add up, undermining its climate action leadership

‘It’s all our burden’: Poorest women hardest hit by heatwaves in India

Soaring temperatures are being felt around the world, but many of the worst-affected places rarely make headlines.

‘I poison my children in order to survive’: The terrible toll of Somalia’s drought

Amid aid shortages, families trying to escape drought and conflict are being forced to make desperate choices.

Cyclone Freddy points to urgent need for climate-smart solutions in Malawi

Climate change means more storms, droughts, and unpredictable weather – how can farmers prepare better?

Why this NGO is publishing its carbon emissions

Public carbon audits, tracking frontline emissions, climate data, early warning, and rethinking how to respond.

2022 in review: Climate change

Mounting humanitarian impacts, policy shifts, and the voices pushing for change.

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