People walking up concrete steps to a building with country flags outside

What Should Take Centre Stage at the Leaders Summit on Climate?

We asked our climate and energy experts what the key priorities should be during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate. Here’s what they said.

By Laura Salter on April 21, 2021

The United States is hosting a virtual climate summit on April 22 and 23, with up to 40 world leaders planning to participate. The gathering provides an important opportunity for countries to commit to more ambitious climate action ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November (COP 26).

As global temperatures continue to rise and governments “build back better” from COVID-19 with green recovery plans, themes of the summit are likely to include: the economic benefits of climate action, public and private investment opportunities for clean energy solutions, and the deployment of innovative technologies. We’re expecting to see updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and more aggressive 2030 emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.

Our energy experts weigh in on what they believe the key priorities should be:

“The summit should be a wake-up call that countries are not using this critical opportunity to align their fiscal systems with a low-carbon future. Removing subsidies and increasing taxes on fossil fuels can deliver much-needed revenue to fund clean stimulus packages, create new jobs in renewable energy, and provide social assistance and a just transition to fossil fuel workers and communities. Yet, for some reason, we don’t see these measures being considered in recovery plans and NDCs. This issue needs global attention; it should be widely discussed during the summit and followed by concrete commitments.”

  • Tara Laan, Senior Associate, Energy Program 

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, government support to the fossil fuel industry has far outweighed investments in clean energy, and this could set the global economy on a path toward catastrophic climate change. At the Leaders Summit, governments must urgently get back on track to a green recovery. No recovery package should support coal, oil, and gas production. Instead, governments should invest in a fossil-free recovery that supports the deployment of renewables at scale, accelerates the decarbonization of all sectors of the economy, and promotes a just transition for workers and affected communities.” 

  • Lucile Dufour, Senior Policy Advisor, Energy Program

“The Leaders Summit on Climate provides a unique window of opportunity for countries to raise the ambition of their NDCs before COP 26. Fossil fuel subsidy reform, a currently underutilized tool in many NDCs, is a key way to achieve this goal, by shifting spending away from fossil fuels and raising much-needed revenue for a green recovery.” 

  • Joachim Roth, Policy Analyst, Energy Program


The event will bring together leaders from the 17 countries responsible for approximately 80% of global emissions and global GDP, as well as countries that demonstrate strong climate ambition or that are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Here's how specific countries can take advantage of the summit to increase their climate commitments: 

“Canada has made good steps to increase its climate ambition, including by announcing a target of net-zero by 2050 and releasing an updated climate plan last year. Scaled-up short-term action is critical, and a significantly ramped up target for 2030 is needed to send the right signals and get Canada on the right path.” 

  • Vanessa Corkal, Policy Analyst, Energy Program, Canada

"We hope the summit will encourage South Africa's leadership to be more ambitious in the country's climate targets. In the past, we've often heard the President saying the right things; however, the actual targets which are needed are inadequate. South Africa's NDC update in March 2021 is a positive step in the right direction but the country still falls short of the 1.5˚C target in the Paris Agreement. We hope President Ramaphosa will use this summit as an opportunity to learn from countries which are leading in their climate ambition and targets." 

  • Chido Muzondo, Energy Policy Consultant, South Africa

“Given the success of the first wave of renewables in India, we think the government may have its eye on new targets for emerging technologies like grid balance, storage, offshore wind, and hydrogen. Recently, there's been immense interest and speculation about India committing to a net-zero target. We hope at the very least the country moves in that direction by considering sectoral level targets, including for power and transport. A low-likelihood but high-impact development would be for India's state-owned energy enterprises to plan early for transition. They play a dominant role in much of the fossil energy sector, and this is an issue that is getting increasing levels of attention.”

Insight details

Focus area