Greta Thunberg at UN climate summit: “I should not be here”

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Greta Thunberg at UN climate summit

Meeting at the UN climate summit in New York, sixty-six countries announced that they adhere to the principle of carbon neutrality by 2050. Attending, environmental activist Greta Thunberg has accused them of not acting against climate change.

“I should not be here, but at school,” Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, 16, said in an angry and emotional speech at the opening of the UN climate summit, this Monday in New York. “You stole my dreams and my childhood,” she said. Denouncing the “fairy tales” told by world leaders, she recalled that “at the rate of current emissions, the CO2 budget we have left will be exhausted in less than 8 years and a half. You are still not mature enough to say things as they are. Young people are beginning to understand that you betrayed them.” With fifteen other activists, she filed a complaint Monday against five countries including France to denounce the leaders climate inaction as a violation of the UN convention on the rights of children. Germany, Argentina, Brazil and Turkey are also targeted (but not the United States or China, the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, who have not signed this convention).

Greta Thunberg speech at Climate Action Summit in New York

“A race we are losing”

UN General Secretary António Guterres only allowed countries with ambitious plans to tackle climate change to speak at the Climate Action Summit. “We are not here to negotiate, because we do not negotiate with nature,” said the General Secretary in his introductory remarks. This summit is one of concrete actions, on the eve of the opening of the debates from the UN General Assembly, and between two Fridays of major mobilisations of young people around the world. “The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but we can still win,” said Guterres. It is our very life that we are mortgaging: sea levels are rising and droughts are increasing, heat waves are stifling, and natural disasters are increasing.”

Monday’s summit was to push countries to revise their ambitions upward to meet the commitments of the Paris agreement. On December 12, 2015, 195 countries agreed to limit warming “well below 2°C, continuing the actions taken to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5°C”. But the national contributions of states, these non-binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), are far from sufficient to keep this trajectory. “Most major economies are failing miserably to improve their climate ambition, in contrast to the growing global demand for action,” Wold Resource Institute (WRI) chairman of the think tank said Monday. “We have a long way to go,” said Guterres at the end of the day.

Carbon neutrality

Around 60 countries have nevertheless committed to formally upward revision of their climate plans by COP26, at the end of 2020, the key step set by the Paris agreement, including 42 during the Monday summit, according to the WRI authorities. For example, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern announced the transition to 100% renewable energy by 2023; German Chancellor Angela Merkel renewed her ambition to end coal by 2038, and specified the means to implement her goal of reducing GHG emissions by 55% by 2030, via a CO2 taxation system (transport and insulation of buildings).

According to the UN, 66 countries, including the entire G7 except the United States, now adhere to the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 (or zero net emissions). They join ten regions, 102 cities (including New York) and 93 companies that have already made this commitment, an objective set by scientists to contain warming within the limits stipulated by the Paris Agreement of 2015. And thirty countries are now joining an alliance promising to stop the construction of coal-fuelled power plants from 2020.

“Into the game”

“Macron has called for an improvement of the ambitions of the European Union next year, it is not nothing,” said David Waskow, international director of climate program at WRI. This summit made it possible to see the commitment of the most vulnerable countries, cities, companies, to meet the objectives of the Paris agreement. And even if they exist anyway outside the UN, the voices of the young people have been amplified. Now, we are really waiting for the big polluters to play their role, for the biggest emitters to finally act. And for the United States to come back in the game, of course.”

After saying he was “too busy” to participate, US President Donald Trump, who signed-off the United States, the world’s largest emitter, from the Paris agreement on climate in June 2017 and destroys the regulations made from the Obama era, finally sat briefly in the room. He attended Monday morning another event organised in parallel to the UN on the “protection of religious freedoms”. Former New York mayor and UN special correspondent for climate change, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, ironically thanked him for making the trip: “With a little luck, our discussions here will be useful to you, when you develop a climate policy.”

Greta Thunberg had travelled to New York sailing aboard a zero carbon sailboat, another way for her to illustrate her commitment to reduce her own carbon emissions.

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