Session Summary: Political Leadership in Climate Change: United We Stand?

David Livingston, Senior Advisor to U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry

Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director, Greenpeace International, Amsterdam

Laurence Tubiana, CEO, European Climate Foundation, Paris

Nick Bridge, Special Representative for Climate Change, Government of the United Kingdom

Led by: Kathleen Koch, Author, Journalist, and Founder, LeadersLink, Clarksville


The panel kicked off by discussing the commitments from the G7 announced at the most recent Summit. Jennifer Morgan, the Executive Director of Greenpeace International expressed disappointment despite the positive impact of the US administration committing to climate goals again, and the G7 commitment to phase out international coal financing and to reach net-zero by 2050. A plan is needed to completely phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible. 

“The vagueness of the discussions does not match the urgency” - Jennifer Morgan 

David Livingstone, the Senior Advisor to U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry shared a more optimistic overview of a productive year for G7 filled with constructive diplomacy. It is important to build on the positive commitment of ending the financing of coal and focus on encouraging and supporting other countries to transition to cleaner energy sources. Each country now needs to focus on implementing the agreed shared visions.

When discussing COP26, the panel was fairly optimistic and emphasised the crucial role that smaller and developing countries will play. The main concern is the growing divide between the Global North and the Global South on several issues ranging from climate finance, historical emissions, lack of access to capital markets, mistrust, as well as vaccine equity. Laurence Tubiana, the CEO of the European Climate Foundation stressed the important role the UK presidency has and the need to start by showing developing countries solidarity and offering serious investment packages in order to build trust.

Although G7 countries have a key role to play, we might have to look elsewhere to bend the emissions curve. In addition, the future of emissions growth is not in the US and Europe. To bring other countries and regions on board, we have to bolster their economic and energy security if we want them to be involved in the green transition. There is a window of opportunity to engage with China who is much more open to discussing climate-related issues than they were just two years ago. United EU-US economic decisions would give a strong signal to global markets that the demand is shifting in a greener direction which could change things in the right direction in other regions. 

“The total of all OECD countries’ emissions are less than China’s” - David Livingstone

Panel members also appreciated Slovakia’s commitment to phase out coal by 2023 and setting a good example for the V4 countries. Central Europe is important for clean energy as can play a key role in clean energy manufacturing, e.g. manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries.

There was an interactive poll asking audience members to answer how confident they are in their respective countries and subsequently in the world reaching net zero by 2050. The results were very pessimistic - on both questions, almost 100% of results said “not at all confident” or “somewhat confident”.