UN Climate Summit


World Climate Strike on September 20th 2019. The strike was meant to call attention to the climate crisis discussion ahead of the U.N. Climate Summit. “Together, [activists] are changing the world,” Organizer of the strike, Greta Thunberg, said via Instagram. Photo from Pixabay.

Last Monday, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit was held in New York City. According to the New York Times, the purpose of this summit was to highlight promises made by world leaders and corporate executives and to create a plan to reduce the dependence of the global economy on fossil fuels to avoid possible negative effects of climate change. 

The summit was organized because recent science reports from the American Association for the Advancement of Science have pointed that the oceans are getting hotter even faster than expected. The New York Times also reports that in recent years, more intense hurricanes have been forming, droughts have persisted, and heat records have been broken. According to Climate Central, the last five years have been the hottest ever recorded. Time magazine reports that this past July was the hottest month since the early 20th century. 

The world is getting hotter faster, the World Meteorological Organization concluded in its latest report last Sunday. Emissions of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming, are at record highs. The seas are rising rapidly. The average global temperature is 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than what it was in the mid-19th century, and at the current pace, average global temperatures will be three degrees Celsius higher by the end of this century. Scientists at WMO say this trend of high temperatures and heat waves will continue. This situation made the Climate Action Summit an opportunity for the world’s most powerful countries to make clear their stance on climate justice. 

According to a press release from the website of the U.N.,  

“Leaders from government, business, and civil society [came] to announce potentially far-reaching steps to confront climate change. As carbon pollution, temperatures, and climate destruction continue to rise, and public backlash mounts, the Summit [was] expected to offer a turning point from inertia into momentum, action, and global impact – if everyone gets on board. The U.N. estimates that the world would need to increase its efforts between three- and five-fold to contain climate change to the levels dictated by science – a 1.5°C rise at most – and avoid escalating climate damage already taking place around the world.  [U.N. Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez said of his plans for the summit] ‘This is not a climate talk summit. We have had enough talk. This is not a climate negotiation summit. You don’t negotiate with nature. This is a climate action summit.’” 

However, according to the New York Times, advocates and diplomats who have been following climate talks for years said they were disappointed by Monday’s results. 


The Friday preceding the summit was the largest ever global strike in history USA Today reports. Vox estimates that as many as four million people participated in over 163 countries on all seven continents. The climate strike was intentionally organized to make clear to world leaders the need for stronger climate policy, according to the Washington Post. 

BVN junior Charlotte Ganter is the social media officer for the Environmental Club. Ganter said that she plans to attend a climate strike because she wants to make a difference. 

“[The goal of the strikes is] to spread awareness about how important an issue climate change is and how nobody’s really doing anything about it. This is participating in something bigger than yourself,” Ganter said.

But despite the protests in the streets, China made no new promises to take stronger climate action and did not signal its readiness to issue stronger targets to transition away from dependence on fossil fuels, as many activists had hoped, according to the New York Times. 

The United States, which vowed to pull out of the Paris Agreement, the pact among nations to jointly fight climate change according to the Atlantic, in 2017 said nothing at all. CNN reports that the U.S. administration made no plans for a speaking slot at Monday’s summit; however, President Trump did pop in for 15 minutes to listen to the talks before abruptly leaving. As for U.S. plans relating to the climate issues discussed at the summit, BVN International Relations teacher Jason Smajda said the U.S. had no plans for the summit.

“From an American perspective, [our] intention was to not necessarily cooperate with a lot of global trends towards the anti-climate change policies,” Smajda said. “Trump’s speech at the [general U.N. meeting] was very anti-globalist, which is his position, he’s moving towards the nationalism level. ‘America First’ basically outlined his agenda that we’re not necessarily part of that purpose. When it comes to understanding the purpose of the summit, it was climate change, [but] we’re taking our own path. I think that’s been Trump’s intention all along, to establish that we’re not going to tie ourselves to other countries.” 

In a speech last Monday at the U.N. summit, which has since then got attention on the internet, 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg highlighted the contrast between the slow pace of action and the urgency of the problem. She reprimanded world leaders for their “business as usual” approach to the crisis. 

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” Thunberg said. “If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.” 

The New York Times reports that a host of countries made only incremental promises. By the end of the day, 65 countries announced efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and dozens of companies said they would aim to hit the Paris Agreement targets. 

According to the New York Times, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi said his country would increase its share of renewable energy by 2022 but did not make any new promises to reduce its dependence on coal energy. Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel promoted a new plan worth $60 billion over ten years to speed a transition to clean power. Russia announced that it would ratify the Paris Agreement, but said nothing about a plan to cut emissions from its massive state-owned petroleum industry. 

“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear,” Thunberg said. “How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.” 

Studies from the Climate Center show that if emissions continue to rise at their current pace, the number of people requiring humanitarian aid as a result of natural disasters could double by 2050. A report from 13 United States federal agencies last year warned that failure to rein in climate warming could reduce the country’s economic productivity by 10 percent by the century’s end. 

Thunberg drilled into one aspect of a current international plan, which includes the goal of cutting current emissions levels in half over the next ten years, but she explains that plan only provides a 50% chance of keeping the warming trend below 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

“People are suffering,” Thurnberg said. “People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! Fifty percent may be acceptable to you, but [it] also relies on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So, a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.” 

Thunberg cited a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that for the world to preserve its best chance of meeting the 1.5-degree goal, countries had a total carbon budget of 420 gigatons of CO2 at the start of 2018. 

“Today, that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons,” Thunberg said. “[The carbon budget] will be entirely gone in less than 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. 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.” 

Thunberg stated on Instagram that the climate strikes are set to continue until governments begin to listen to activists’ climate concerns.