The UN Climate Action Summit attracted a lot of attention. But was it a lot of talk and little action?


The News:

The UN Climate Action Summit took place in New York this week. What seemed to be an exciting lead up to the summit with teenage activist, Greta Thunberg’s transatlantic boat journey accompanied with large climate change protests across 150 countries ended in disappointment.

The Context:

In 2015, 195 countries across the globe signed a pact called the Paris Climate Accord. The aim of the Paris Climate Accord is to align countries in the fight against climate change. Each country has pledged that it will reduce its carbon gas emissions by a certain amount by 2020. Their goal is to keep the global average temperatures from rising 2°C  by the end of the century.

But as the climate crisis unfolds, scientists and some leaders realize that countries need to be more ambitious and cut their carbon gas emissions in half by 2030, a goal that is far beyond countries’ current pledges.

Thus UN Secretary-General António Guterres held this climate summit days before the UN General Assembly meeting with the aim of pressurizing countries and companies to scale up their individual carbon reduction pledges. He urged countries to tax pollution, stop the development of new coal power plants and transition to renewable energy.

What happened at the summit?

One of the main highlights was teenage activist, Greta Thunberg’s highly anticipated and passionate speech. In her speech she tried to shame world leaders into doing more to save the Earth, using strong language. ‘How dare you’, she said, basically stand by and ignore what scientists and experts say. She predicted that leaders would not commit to drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that are needed to avoid the climate crisis. Unfortunately, she was correct.

World leaders took the stage to talk about their plans to combat climate change. All eyes were on countries like USA, China, Japan and India, the largest greenhouse gas polluters. Japan and China promised to honour its previous commitments. India said it would increase its investment in renewable energy sources. Sadly, neither of them announced any ambitious updates on the carbon reduction pledges they made at the Paris climate accord. Their climate change commitments stand to make the biggest impact on preventing a climate disaster.

Although there was more talk about action, some of the smaller economies made some positive commitments at the summit.

65 countries stated that they will update their carbon reduction pledges but most of them were smaller low polluting countries such as Norway, Argentina, Ethiopia, and Turkey.

15 smaller countries such as Costa Rica, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and as many as 90 companies made aggressive commitments to net zero emissions by 2050. That means that the countries and companies carbon emissions will be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

30 countries have also committed to stopping building new coal power plants in 2020 and transitioning to renewable energy.

Many rich European economies like Germany declared more money for programs like the UN’s Green Climate Fund, a program that provides the necessary technical and financial support to developing countries to transition to renewable energy sources.

What next?

All the talk surrounding the summit showed that there is a growing demand for climate action around the world. Climate activists have their hopes pegged on the upcoming UN COP25 Conference in Santiago, Chile in December 2019. They hope the next big round of climate change discussions will get governments to commit to serious action.

Stay tuned for more news!

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