One of the key moments in this year’s Climate calendar was the United Nations Climate Action Summit. The Summit, convened by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, was held in New York in September in the margins of the United Nations Generally Assembly. It provided a moment for leaders from around the world to show they are taking the threat of climate change seriously and stepping up to act accordingly. In the months leading up to the Summit, the UNSG set out clear expectations of leaders for those attending, setting a new benchmark for ambition when it is most needed.
On Friday 20th September, just ahead of this important Summit, the stage was set by the youth with the largest school strike for climate the world had ever seen. It is estimated that over 4 million people, youth and adults alike, from every continent of the world marched in protest of inadequate action by our governments on the biggest challenge of our time.
Come Monday, the UNSG’s Climate Action Summit drew a line in the sand between those leading and those holding back progress. And, overall, countries failed to step up to the mark. Some of the largest poluters were absent, including many of the world’s biggest countries. Those who were present provided ambiguous statements or announcements that are largely insufficient to address the challenge. The voice of the youth was loud and clear at the Summit itself, with Greta Thunberg giving an impassioned speach to world leaders telling them that they are failing us. Her cry of ‘how dare you’ quickly began trending on Twitter and became the summary phrase for the week in New York.
However, all is not lost. The Climate Action Summit was intended to be just one drumbeat of the momentum leading into a bigger moment. The next two United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conferences of the Parties (COP25 in Chile in December 2019, and COP26 in UK in 2020) will provide a major test of how committed countries are. Under the Paris Agreement, ahead of COP26 countries are required to come with new and more ambitious plans for how they will increase their action. There is much work to be done between now and COP26 to ensure countries are ready and willing to sieze this moment.
One thing that is certain is that the youth are uniting behind the science and calling on their governments to deliver significant and rapid change for their futures. But the quesiton is – why are we leaving such a huge responsibility on the shoulders of those so young? There are growing concerns amongst those working on climate change that the energy of the youth, without an acceptable response from governments, will have negative consequences. So, how can we help channel the positive energy of the youth and turn it into concrete action?
InterClimate Network seeks to inspire the next generation of climate leaders. Through its activities with schools and young people, ICN aims to help students better understand the topic of climate change and learn about steps they can take for change in their own lives, schools, and communities. Although these actions might not be the transformational change the movement as a whole is calling for from our governments, these local actions that we’re all capable of are very important. To quote Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Acknowledgement to UNPhoto and UNPhoto/MarkGarten