Did today’s UN Climate Action Summit provide the basis for a stepped-up response to climate change around the world?
UN Secretary General António Guterres invited more than 90 heads of state to come together at UN headquarters in New York today with action plans.
Guterres opened the day with a moving statement of the problem: “Look around. Seas are rising, and oceans are acidifying. Glaciers are melting, and corals are bleaching. Droughts are spreading, and wildfires are burning. Deserts are expanding, and access to water is dwindling. Heatwaves are scorching, and natural disasters are multiplying. Storms everywhere are more intense, more frequent, more deadly.”
Speaking based on recent visits to witness the destruction in Dominica, the Sahara, the South Pacific, Tuvalu, Mozambique and the Bahamas, Guterres said, “The destruction was not simply appalling, it was apocalyptic. Make no mistake. When we see those images, we are not just seeing damage, we are seeing the future, if we do not act now.” Then he said he was hopeful, because all these heads of state had come to present concrete action plans.
But first … three young people were asked to state their points of view.
- Paloma Costa, A young and outspoken Brazilian lawyer, spoke of the need for a climate agenda in Brazil to provide safe purchase for the indigenous people there. Yes! Thanks, Paloma, for the way you keep putting him on the spot.
- Next, Anurag Saha Roy, a young Indian-born entrepreneur and winner of the Summer of Solutions Pitch Competition, spoke of how young entrepreneurs who have given up job safety to find solutions to the climate problem need and expect a practical platform (incentives, tax breaks, and such) to help with startups. So true! Many a good idea has died a use less death for lack of financial support.
- Then came Sweden’s Greta Thunberg’s impassioned statement, which I quote here:
“We’ll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here, I should be back in school, on the other side of the ocean. Yet You have come to us young people for hope. How dare you! … stealing my childhood with your empty words. People are suffering, people are dying, and our eco systems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the policies and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight! You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that, because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.
The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in ten years only gives us a 50 per cent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees and the risk of setting off universal chain reactions beyond human control. 50 per cent may be acceptable to you, but those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution, or the absence of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50 per cent risk is simply not acceptable to us, we who have to bear the consequences.
To have a 67 per cent chance of staying below a1.5 degrees of global temperature rise, the best odds given by the IPCC, the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to make back January 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business as usual and some technical solutions! With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within the next eight and a half years.
There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable and you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is. You are shaming us, but the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you, and if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. 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. Thank you.”
And the rest of the day? Leader after leader expounded on their country’s determination to solve the climate problems and about the positive results of programs they’ve implemented. I didn’t hear any astounding new plans, but then again, how could we expect that from this kind of gathering? As Guterres said in his opening speech, we already have technological solutions for more than 70 per cent of our current emissions, though implementing them will mean making “fundamental transformations in all aspects of society.” And “If we don’t urgently change our ways of life, we jeopardize life itself. … What the youth and grassroots movements are doing is absolutely essential.”
Yes. In the final analysis, it is up to us—the youth, the middle generations, the elders—to show up, keep the heat on, come up with solutions and ways to get the best solutions implemented. Of course it’s nice when our governments take the lead. But since we cannot count on that, perhaps it’s time for us to step out and be the leaders we’ve been waiting for.