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UN climate summit promotes global cuts in coal-fired generation, endorses renewables

Highlights

UN chief believes 'majority' in US believe climate threat

There is growing list of those with zero-carbon plans

Houston — The United Nations launched its Climate Action Summit on Monday that is expected to promote a cut in coal-fired power generation while endorsing the use of renewables to help meet global power demand.

Despite the fact that the US government pulled out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the organizers of the UN event credited, in part, US corporations with taking the threats of climate change "seriously" and see assertions by US utilities that they are actively pursuing zero carbon emission programs into the future, as a justification for holding the summit.

"What we see in the U.S., even if it's probably the country where you have a bigger number of people disbelieving [in climate change], there is already a solid majority believing," said UN General-Secretary Antonio Guterres during a television interview on Sunday.

The UN has said its goal for the summit is to bring forward what organizers have called "concrete plans and strategies" to bring about carbon neutrality by 2050.

In his interview on CNN, Guterres said the time was ripe for the UN to tackle the issue of climate change "because I think things are changing very quickly."

He said, "Climate change was perceived as a problem for the end of the century. But [now] it is more about the realities proving that climate change is a problem today."

With representatives of 60 countries present, French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said climate change must be looked at as an urgent problem, and even suggested that trade negotiations should be linked to commitments on emissions.

India's Prime Minister Narenda Modi said in his speech that his country will boost the use of renewables, but, according to reports, offered no word on reductions in coal.

'WAKING UP'

Regarding the US, Guterres said "public opinion is waking up," and the business community is "starting to work seriously."

"Central banks are including climate change risks. We see rating agencies including climate change risks. We see more and more big asset managers representing trillions of dollars divesting from fossil fuels. And it is clear for me that in a civil society, in the business community, in cities, in states and with the general public, there is more and more discussions this is a threat now."

Guterres said governments follow public opinion. "I am starting to see governments also understanding that they need to act. We still have emissions growing. We are still not there. Climate change is running faster than what we are. But for the first time I'm seeing more and more countries accepting that they have to be carbon neutral in 2050," Guterres said.

He said he has seen more countries and more utilities, giving full priority to renewable energy and phasing out coal.

"Not everywhere. We still have a very serious coal problem, particularly in Asia. But I think momentum is being gained, and I'm hopeful that we will be able to accelerate this momentum in the next decade," he said.

US UTILITIES AND COMPANIES PUSH ZERO CARBON

Many US utilities and companies in recent weeks and months have been announcing zero-carbon-emissions plans:

**On September 17, Duke Energy announced an updated climate strategy with a new goal of net-zero carbon emissions from electric generation by midcentury. The company said it was accelerating its near-term goal by cutting its carbon dioxide emissions by half or more from 2005 levels by 2030.

**Amazon, on September 19, issued what it called a climate pledge committing it to 100% renewables by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. It said it will speed up its adoption of renewable energy with the goal of converting 80% of the company's energy sources to renewable energy by 2024.

**American Electric Power said on September 10 that it was "accelerating" its carbon dioxide emissions reduction target to 70% from 60%. The Columbus, Ohio-based utility said it was "confident" it will be able to cut CO2 emissions by more than 80% from 2000 levels by 2050.

**Madison, Wisconsin-based Alliant Energy said in early August it is targeting a 40% reduction in carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 2030 and an 80% reduction by 2050.

**Public Service Enterprise Group announced July 25 that it expects to cut its power fleet's carbon emissions by 80% by 2046, from 2005 levels. PSEG also said it has a "vision" of attaining net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, assuming what it called "advances in technology and public policy."

**Jackson, Michigan-based Consumers Energy received approval from state regulators in July to put into motion its plan to eliminate coal, reduce carbon emissions by over 90% and to supply customers from 90% clean energy resources by 2040.

**The WEC Energy Group, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said in July that its long-term goal is to reduce total carbon dioxide emissions by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.

**Xcel Energy said in May it is on pace to reach its interim goal to cut carbon 80% by 2030, with its longer-term goal being the delivery of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.

-- Jeffrey Ryser, jeffrey.ryser@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Gail Roberts, newsdesk@spglobal.com