At UN Climate Action Summit, Calls for Developed Countries to Do More
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” Greta Thunberg lashed out.
These words, part of her UN Climate Action Summit address, set the tone for a summit that called out empty promises and token actions from the world’s most prosperous countries.
In more than eight hours of speeches and testimonies on Monday, political and financial leaders came together to reiterate and improve upon their commitments to fighting the climate crisis. As leader after leader from developing countries spoke, they repeatedly emphasized the need for developed countries to do more.
Many of the countries most at risk from climate change are developing countries that emit far fewer greenhouse gases than developed countries. Yet the people who live in these places are the ones who will pay the highest price when it comes to climate change, dealing with increasingly powerful droughts, floods, heatwaves and hurricanes.
“[Developed countries] must shoulder their historical responsibility and meet the needs of developing countries,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales. “The time has come for action if we want to guarantee our future for mankind.”
And small island states, many of which have committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 under the Alliance of Small Island States, are facing increasing danger from sea level rise, hurricanes and ocean acidification. Despite these states’ ambitious individual goals, their leaders made it clear that international cooperation was necessary.
“Let us not forget… the small island developing states are the least contributors to the process of climate change. But yet we are indeed on the front line of those changes,” said Palau President Thomas Remengesau Jr. “We are living the impact of the climate crisis.”
Speakers pleaded with countries like the U.S., which conspicuously did not present at the summit, to understand that it isn’t just developing countries or island states that will feel the sting of climate change, and that the crisis will affect all countries regardless of wealth or power.
“What we need from the world community is partnership, because clearly, climate change is something which individual countries can’t do anything unless and until the world gets together,” said Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. “Eventually, no country will be not affected by climate change.”
Developing countries pledged to foster their development through sustainable means, delivering energy to their citizens in the form of renewables and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
At times, the frustration boiled over. Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada listed all of the actions his country has taken to surpass the goals of the Paris accords, and argued that Costa Rica, which gets 99% of its energy from renewable sources, proves that it is possible to achieve economic well-being while investing in nature.
“Costa Rica as a middle income country has been able to do this. There is no excuse for other countries with more resources and possibilities not to do the same,” he argued.
In the midst of these heartfelt pledges, President Trump watched the proceedings for approximately ten minutes before leaving to attend an event on religious freedom.
The U.S., once seen as a leader on climate, came under fire for its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and lack of commitment to fighting climate change.
French President Emmanuel Macron called on leaders to oppose new trade agendas with countries who aren’t members of the Paris accords, and later referenced the U.S.’s withdrawal of funds for the Green Climate Fund.
“We need to have a trade agenda that is consistent with our climate agenda,” said Macron. “I don’t want to see new trade negotiations open with countries who are running counter to the Paris Agreement.”
And China State Councilor Wang Yi made a veiled reference to the U.S.’s withdrawal in his statement, calling climate change “a common challenge to all countries,” and confirming China’s commitment to the Paris accords.
“The withdrawal of certain parties will not shake the collective will of the international community nor will it possibly reverse the historical trend of international cooperation,” said Yi.
Excluding the U.S., the hope of global solidarity ran throughout the summit, as developed countries promised funds for those facing the brunt of the climate crisis, and developing countries requested partnership and support in their efforts to mitigate and combat climate change. But no one seemed convinced that change was happening fast enough.
“You have delivered a boost in momentum, cooperation and ambition,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in his closing remarks. “But we have a long way to go. We are not yet there.”
Opponents of the climate summit argue that it is hypocritical for world leaders who travel in private jets to lecture others on climate responsibility, and say the seriousness of the consequences facing the world due to climate change is overstated.
In all, 77 countries, 10 regions and more than 100 cities committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Many countries also increased their contributions to the Green Climate Fund, and expanded their commitments to using renewables, cutting back on fossil fuels and creating green infrastructure. And Russia ratified the Paris accords.
WHAT THE LEFT IS SAYING: Massachusetts Sen. and Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren: “Keep speaking the truth and fighting for big, structural change, Greta Thunberg. Change is possible when millions of people push for it.”
Keep speaking the truth and fighting for big, structural change, @GretaThunberg. Change is possible when millions of people push for it—and when leaders are willing to listen and lead. I promise to fight alongside you and do everything I can to end the climate crisis. https://t.co/hDwwCJVSpB
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) September 23, 2019
WHAT THE RIGHT IS SAYING: President Donald Trump: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”
She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see! https://t.co/1tQG6QcVKO
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019