Can the UN take the heat? What went down at the 2019 Climate Change Summit

The concern over Earth’s climate change crisis appears to be at an all-time high, and for good reason. A recent NASA data set suggests the Earth’s surface to be 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was in the late nineteenth century, a value only growing as the years wear on. Sea levels have risen “about 8 inches in the last century” and are continuing to rise at twice the rate they were before. Ice caps are melting, glaciers are receding, the oceans are acidifying. The evidence is various and plenty, and many–namely the youth–are demanding that the world’s leaders stop ignoring it.


On Friday, Sept. 2o, youth across all seven continents participated in a global climate change strike. Students in cities like Sydney, Berlin, New York City and Lahore, Pakistan skipped their classes for the day and took to the streets instead, signs and banners in tow. It seemed as though the upset over the governments’ inaction had finally reached its peak, and just in time for an important meeting that Monday.


On Sept. 23, leaders and activists from 193 nations gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York City to celebrate steps already taken to solve the issue of climate change, and prioritize future plans to continue working to save our planet. 


So what is the UN and what was the reason for the commotion surrounding its recent climate change summit? 


The organization was originally birthed out of the carnage of World War II, in the hopes of promoting a stronger sense of peace and human rights after the war’s atrocities. Britain, China, the Soviet Union and the United States were the forerunners of the United Nations Charter, signed in San Francisco in June 1945. By October of that year–after several negotiations, of course–50 nations had signed the Charter, a number that would only grow.


In the past, the UN has tackled human rights issues such as gender inequality and genocide to a lukewarm degree. “In 1948,” writes Somini Sengupta in “The New York Times,” “the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…However, many of the rights expressed–to education, to equal pay for equal work, to nationality–remained aspirational.”


The same concern–that the summit would be more talk than action–surrounded September’s UN meeting. With a recent study that says “we can reduce carbon emissions within 12 years and hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C (3.6°F)” if humanity acts immediately, the UN’s member nations were expected to present more forward, proactive plans to combat global warming.


Activists and leaders worldwide expected these plans to provide notable updates since the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, in which 195 nations agreed to place more effort into fighting climate change. An accord, namely, from which President Trump has vowed to remove the United States. 


Particularly, the UN was expecting to see concrete steps made in these areas:


  1. Finance – Allocating more money towards decarbonization and environmental conservation efforts,
  2. Energy transition – Shifting the use of fossil fuels towards cleaner, renewable sources of energy,
  3. Industry transition – cleaning up the way industries such as oil, gas, steel, cement and chemicals produce and distribute their goods,
  4. Natured-based solutions – focusing on the conservation of biodiversity, “enhancing resilience within and across forestry, agriculture, oceans, and food systems,” and reducing emissions,
  5. Cities and local action – reducing humanity’s carbon footprint by strengthening infrastructure–namely public transport–and engineering low-emission buildings and vehicles, and
  6. Resilience and adaptation – promoting proper understanding of the “impacts and risks of climate change” and gearing global effort “particularly [to] those communities and nations most vulnerable.”


In all, 65 countries claimed that they will enhance their climate change efforts, yet the world’s three biggest culprits when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions–India, China, and the United States–made no decisive pledges. President Trump, in fact, only sat in on the UN meeting for a brief duration of 15 minutes. 


Truth is, the claimed effort of 65 countries isn’t going to be enough to significantly slow climate change, and the younger generations are tired of seeing more conversation than action. After all, what we and our world leaders do now will determine the fate of the Earth for thousands of years in the future.


By: Jessi Rich

Image: desmogblog