The UN Climate Action Summit in New York opened with anger on Monday 20 September 2019. “Nature is angry,” said Antonio Guterres. Youth activist Greta Thunberg told leaders “How dare you gamble with our future and continue talking about fairytales of eternal economic growth?”
Although keynote speakers reaffirmed that our house is on fire with impacts becoming more intense and frequent across the world, country speeches which ensued showed that governments are still fuelling the fire. They continue to ignore the science and fail to present ambitious climate commitments. In the end, the urgency and the emergency did not transpire in leaders’ speeches.
The world did not hear many announcements on enhanced targets or phase out of polluting fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. The world did not see rich countries bear their historic responsibility by committing finance to poorer countries that are struggling with impacts, loss, damage and displacement or those with the political will, but with no resources to mitigate climate change.
This is deeply irresponsible. As the youth said, governments are gambling with people’s safety and lives.
Based on the latest science, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres went to great lengths to prompt leaders to present concrete commitments that deliver transformative action over the next decade. Overall, his calls and the voices on the streets, which have been rising every Friday since last year, demanding climate ambition and action and culminating in 4 million people taking to the streets on the eve of the Summit, fell on deaf ears. This as yet another damning scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change detailing the alarming impacts of climate change on the world’s oceans and the cryosphere is being released in Monaco.
Leaders are shamefully absconding their responsibility to solve climate change, leaving the problem to the youth. Failing to listen and respond to the emergency forces the youth to continue striking and sacrificing their childhood and education.
A few small island states and developing countries, as well as businesses, stepped up and committed to enhancing their targets based on science. Others, like Sweden, Luxembourg and Denmark pledged to double their contribution to the Green Climate Fund. These countries demonstrated much-needed leadership and underscored the feasibility of climate action and ambition. They showed that the energy transition is ongoing and irreversible. Soon enough, they will reap the benefits of their choices with more prosperous economies, healthier populations and re-election.
On the other hand, rich countries and large emitters failed to build on the historic opportunity provided by the UN chief to show they stand on the right side of history. Absentees like the US, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil, which snubbed the Summit, have emerged as those that should be held most accountable for sealing our fate. History will judge them harshly and so will the next generations who will soon be marching to the ballot box.
The Summit drew a line in the sand between leaders who united behind the science and those ignoring it and the voice of the people on the streets – siding instead with the narrow interests of fossil fuel corporations.
Despite the alarm of climate change, fossil fuel producers are still allowed to brazenly continue business as usual and generate profits at the expense of people’s lives and livelihoods. They get no push back by government, especially those with whom they hold close alliances. As a result oil and gas chief executives sees no problem with convening meetings on the sidelines of the Summit in New York, prompting activists to continue staging protests.
In light of general disappointment, civil society turns to the upcoming climate conference in Chile (COP25) and its Presidency to push countries to deliver an emergency package that includes ambitious commitments in climate finance – including for loss and damage, strong targets, and rules on trading emissions between countries.
The Chilean and subsequently the UK Presidency of COP26, must ensure that governments deliver the adequate response to the emergency and ambition that puts the world on a 1.5C degrees trajectory. COP26 is the deadline. But countries should not wait until 2020. They should start now by stopping coal and other fossil fuels, and investing in a just transition to renewable energy and climate resilience.
The pressure in the streets and by civil society will continue until inaction is converted to action and ambition.
Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director for Greenpeace International, said: “This is a moment unlike anything we have ever seen before in the climate movement, and it’s just the beginning.
“Despite Greta’s raw, unvarnished opening plea, and millions of people in the streets on Friday, world leaders did not deliver what was needed in New York.
“It’s time to address corporate power and the hold it has over politics, challenge the suffocating omnipresence of the fossil fuel industry and demand they take responsibility for the human rights impacts of the climate crisis.
“This summit is a springboard for 2020, when all countries signed on to the Paris Agreement must pledge to increase the ambition in their nationally determined contribution. It was leaders that agreed to that, and leaders that commissioned the latest science for the IPCC. The difference is, now millions of people are watching to make sure they follow through. We will not stop, and we will keep going, until we see a sustainable 1.5 pathway and a just transition to a cleaner and fairer future for us all.”
Mohamed Adow, International Climate Lead, Christian Aid, said:“Despite this being called the Climate Action Summit, the concrete outcomes we saw here did not match up with the demands made by science and the schoolchildren who went on strike around the world on Friday.
“The UN Secretary General was right to call it but world leaders clearly failed to live up to the platform he gave them. The few actions that have been announced are far from world changing and that is what is required.
“As Greta Thunberg told them in her opening speech, how dare they.
“Time is running out for countries to drastically strengthen their commitments to reduce emissions and provide the needed finance for poor countries to adapt to the impacts of this climate crisis. Currently they are failing us.”
Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s Global Lead on Climate Change, said:”Young people have exposed the shameless lack of leadership from heads of state, who have looked the other way for decades, as the climate crisis has escalated and the planet burned.
“This Summit was supposed to be a turning point. But we have seen an exceptional lack of commitment from the biggest and richest polluting countries that continue to take trivial measures toward solving a life or death crisis.
“Rich countries need to take greater responsibility for the mess they have made.
“The UN Secretary General urged world leaders to rise to the challenge and take bold action to ensure a safe future. But the countries that have responded with the most concrete actions are the ones most vulnerable to climate impacts.
“At this late stage when the window of opportunity is shrinking, we need leaders to show courage, not cowardice.”
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Practice, said: Secretary-General Guterres was courageous in holding the bar high for the Summit. And some important transformational announcements were made, on long-term decarbonisation, and sectoral transformation in the finance, food and cooling sectors. These are exemplary commitments. However, if heavy emitters don’t come on board, the needle will not move.
“The Summit has been critically important in forcing the world to become laser-focused on the climate crisis. Clearly though, we are yet to see the scale of change and commitment needed to address it. This is the message that must now travel to COP25 and COP26 by which time countries must deliver the ambition we need to ensure the Paris Agreement succeeds.”