Much Talk & Little Action: UN Climate Summit Sees Light Amidst the Gloom

Written by | Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

The one-day United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York (23 September) concluded with a torrent of new announcements, with 66 countries, 93 companies and more than 100 cities making a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Germany and Slovakia were among those to join 30-member-country alliance to halt the construction of coal plants. Companies and industry groups announced measures to reduce emissions from shipping, buildings and more. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi set a new 450-gigawatt target for renewable energy capacity by 2030, more than five times the current level. “Today, in this hall, the world saw clear ambition and concrete initiatives,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in an obvious attempt to highlight its successes.

However, amidst cautious praise for its achievements, the UN’s climate summit is also faced with bitter condemnation for its failures. The teenage campaigner Greta Thunberg blasted global leaders for what she called inadequate ambition that risked the future of today’s young generation. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” a visibly emotional Swedish climate activist told the gathered heads of state and government in a stinging speech. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you.”

Critics described Germany’s pledge, for example, as totally unfit to meet carbon-cutting targets it’s already promised. Scientists have also warned on Tuesday (24 September) of alarming changes in the natural world, including melting ice and sea level rise beyond previous projections. Yet, despite this gloom, there were very clear signs that people and countries across the globe are waking up to the threat of an over-heating climate. The EU, China and India, for example, pledged to deliver tougher carbon-curbing plans in 2020. Also Finland announced its aim to become the first industrialized nation to absorb more carbon than it emits, while Pakistan pledged to add 10 billion trees in the next five years to those one billion it has planted in the past five years.

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