Politicians and business leaders have announced new steps to combat climate change. But much remains to be done
September 24, 2019
Those concerned about changing global warming had a clear message to the leaders attending the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old activist, led protests in New York begging politicians to act now to limit the temperature rise and warned summit leaders: “The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to set us aside, I say we will never forgive you. The UN Secretary-General's instructions were more specific. In the run-up to the summit, António Guterres had urged governments to put forward plans in areas such as carbon prices and reforestation, with the goal of achieving zero net emissions by 2050. “I do not intend to rule the world, Guterres acknowledged. "My role is to tell the world what the world needs to do."
The one-day summit ended with a flood of new announcements. This included the commitment of 66 countries, 93 companies and more than 100 cities to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050. Germany and Slovakia were among those who joined an alliance to halt construction of coal plants; In total 32 countries are members. Companies and industry groups have announced measures to reduce emissions from remittances, buildings and more. Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, has set a new target of 450 gigawatts for renewable energy capacity, more than five times the current level. Guterres highlighted his successes. "Today, in this room, the world has seen clear ambition and concrete initiatives," he said.
Some ads were promises of future ads. 59 countries said they would soon be making more ambitious commitments under the Paris agreement, which aims to keep global temperatures "well below" 2 ° C above preindustrial temperatures; A global round of such increased commitments will be negotiated next year. "These are helpful steps," says Nathaniel Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund, a defense group. "However, they are useful only as they are built and made into action."
Even if all promises are kept, the difference between what the summit has promised and what needs to be done remains a gulf. America, China, and India, the world's three largest emitters, were not among those that set targets for achieving zero net emissions. At the same time that India is investing in renewable energy, its state-backed banks are supporting its coal sector. Finally, Russia has announced that it is ratifying the Paris agreement, but the action targets it has set are too low. President Donald Trump, who announced that the United States was withdrawing from this agreement soon after his election, made a brief appearance at the summit, but did not speak.
Activists remain deeply dissatisfied. Thunberg and other children filed a complaint accusing five countries of violating their human rights by not stopping the climate crisis. They have filed their petition against Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey – five countries that allow these complaints to be filed under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty.
As the Climate Action Summit ended at the UN, there was no clearer place between stated intentions and present reality than at an afternoon meeting of oil and gas companies across the city. Chief executives of the world's top executives gathered at the airy Morgan Library for a forum hosted by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, their joint effort to invest in technologies that will help mitigate climate change. For more than two hours, heads of companies such as ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP have defended their record as partners in the fight against rising temperatures.
They vowed to limit methane emissions and highlighted their support for research into new technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration. But they also explained their decision to continue investing in new extraction projects; No supermajor has yet said it will reduce emissions from its products on an absolute basis. "As frustrating as it may be for some people who would like to see us declare that we intend to close the deal," said Mike Wirth, chief executive of Chevron, "we are meeting the demand for a product that produces quality of life in the better world." ”The protests of September 20 will not be the last.
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