Dozens of world leaders arrived this Monday at the United Nations to face a simple question posed to them by millions of young people who took to the streets around the globe to protest for more aggressive action on climate change- What’s your plan?
The special UN climate summit was billed as an opportunity for nations to make high-profile commitments to do more to counter climate change. But it also exposed the growing tensions between a burgeoning activist movement and world leaders, many of whom do acknowledge the seriousness of climate change but have not committed to the kind of transformational changes that scientists recommend for averting its worst effects in coming decades.
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg told heads of state as she spoke on stage, her face flushed with anger, “You are failing us. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say, we will never forgive you.”
“Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
My full speech in United Nations General Assembly. #howdareyou https://t.co/eKZXDqTAcP
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) September 23, 2019
UN Secretary General António Guterres had asserted that countries attend the much-anticipated “climate action summit” not with lofty rhetoric speeches but with concrete promises like vowing to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, cutting fossil fuel subsidies and terminating construction of coal-fired power plants.
Guterres told the gathering Monday morning, “Dear friends, there is a cost to everything. But the biggest cost is doing nothing. The biggest cost is subsidizing a dying fossil fuel industry, building more and more coal power plants, and denying what is plain as day: that we are in a deep climate hole, and to get out, we must first stop digging.”
A Stream Of Promises
Strings of promises in three-minute speeches from leaders of France, Germany, India and other countries described plans to increase their use of renewable energy and limit fossil fuel burning linked to climate change. Ultimately, a minimum of 65 countries have indicated that their intention to strengthen the commitments promised under the 2015 Paris agreement by the end of next year.
French President Emmanuel Macron said, “We cannot let our youth spend every Friday demonstrating for the climate and simply answer, ‘Everything is fine, we are doing everything right’. We are still far from the account.”
Businesses and private investors declared ambitious climate plans with nearly 300 multinational corporations with US$5.5 trillion in revenue pledged commitment to expand renewable energy and electric transportation around the world. Several small nations already witnessing the effects of climate change vowed their own aggressive targets. But there was a growing sense that Monday’s summit would not offer the striking jolt organizers had once hoped as the world’s largest emitters again stopped short of committing to the far-reaching new goals endorsed by scientists to rein in emissions.
Andrew Steer, head of the World Resources Institute, said in a statement, “Most of the major economies fell woefully short. Their lack of ambition stands in sharp contrast with the growing demand for action around the world. We need far greater national leadership on climate action – and we need it now.”
In the Paris Climate Meet in 2015, leaders from 195 nations aligned together in an unprecedented agreement to jointly cut carbon emissions and hold the world’s warming to “well below” 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). But four years later, the scale of the challenge and the obstacles that exist are yet to be overcome. Scientists continue to issue dire warnings about melting permafrost, retreating glaciers, rising seas, more extreme weather, and the impacts such changes are having on societies. The Climate Action Tracker by a consortium of scientists issued a hard-hitting analysis last week that if current policies continue, the world will warm at least 1.5° Celsius by around 2035, 2 °C by around 2053, and 3.2 °C by the end of the century.
To make matters worse, the United States under President Trump has withdrawn from its role as a global leader on climate action. On Monday, Trump visited the halls of the United Nations on his way to another meeting, as Thunberg looked on sternly.
Later in the day he was asked why he swung by the climate summit, Trump replied, “Because I believe in clean air and clean water, very simple. We have the cleanest air, we have the cleanest water.”
Young People File Legal Complaint
On Monday, teenage activist Thunberg and 15 other young people filed a legal complaint with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, contending that major countries were aware of the risks of climate change for decades but have failed to take sufficient action.
Thunberg said, “Right here, right now, is where we draw the line. The world is waking up, and change is coming whether you like it or not.”
Guterres reminded world leaders that the Earth’s current trajectory is unsustainable, there are human stakes involved with failure to craft a more sustainable future.
He said, “I will not be there, but my granddaughters will. And your grandchildren, too. I refuse to be an accomplice in the destruction of their one and only home. It is my obligation – our obligation – to do everything to stop the climate crisis before it stops us. Time is running out. But it is not too late.”