Takeaways from the climate summit

Greta Thunberg
Select highlights from the New York Climate Action Summit 2019.


Trump’s brief appearance

Rather than joining the others in the UN Assembly Chamber, where some serious climate discussions were taking place, Trump instead held his own ‘mini-conference’. The president booked a separate room to discuss religion while the climate summit was taking place.

This was perhaps not too much of a surprise given that he once claimed that climate change is a hoax. What’s more, many of the seats normally offered to member state delegates were instead given to representatives from American religious groups, a crowd sure to greet him with applause (which they did).

The progressive Pope

Pope Francis made sure to be present during the climate debate and delivered a powerful speech. He stated that climate change is “one of the most serious and worrying phenomena of our times”.

His speech framed climate action as a moral duty, one which demands “honesty, responsibility, and courage.” Three words, he often returned to throughout his talk, which was surprisingly progressive. He stated that “the post-industrial period may be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history.”

He also shared some criticisms, stating that climate efforts by the States have been very weak, highlighting that we are far from reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement. He wrapped things up by offering some hope, stating that the brief window of opportunity is still open, with many solutions available to us.

'How dare you'

Stealing the show, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg gave another powerful and accurate speech. She seemed more determined than ever and had a look of frustration and fury.

When asked what her message is for the world’s leaders, she leaned towards the microphone and calmly stated: “My message is that we will be watching you.” She then began her speech, starting with, “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school, on the other side of the ocean.”

Her voice began to break as she became filled with emotion, upset and angry. She raised her voice and continued: “Yet you come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” She continued, “I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth!”

Her eyes began to water, she paused, then added, “How dare you! … For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear … How dare you continue to look the other way!”

She went on to reveal how the world’s leaders are failing to meet even the bare minimum climate targets. Her closing section included some harrowing lines: “If you choose to fail us… we will never forgive you!”

Climate legal action

Greta was also involved in more direct action. Along with fifteen other children, she filed a complaint against five nations for violating human rights.

The complaint, delivered to the UN, alleged that Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey have failed to uphold their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (a 30-year-old human rights treaty).

The accused nations are said to have failed to prevent the deadly and foreseeable consequences of the climate crisis. The complaint claims that the five nations' insufficient pledges will not keep the average surface temperature below two degrees celsius (the target outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement).

The children stipulate that they don’t want money, they want adequate actions that address the crisis. Other high emitting nations are not included as they didn’t sign that portion of the treaty.

Bonus item

On a lighter note, a personal highlight of mine wasn’t actually part of the conference itself. It was when Greta briefly met Donald Trump, the president of the only nation to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and the President of the biggest carbon polluting country in history.

It was a surreal moment caught on camera by chance. Trump was simply walking through the convention centre but Greta can be seen in the background glaring at him. If looks could kill… I took a screengrab and posted the strange encounter on my Instagram page for those who are curious.

What Now?

As someone who has been fighting for climate justice for some time, I often take these events with a pinch of salt. After all, political empty promises are far easier, and significantly more familiar, than the required level of pioneering policies and system change. In other words, the green talk is far easier than the green walk.

That being said, this year felt different. Those speaking at the conference had clearly done their research. They seemed more committed and more organized. There were new tactics such as filing for abuses of human rights. There were significantly more people who took to the streets in the lead up to the conference.

As Greta noted in her speech: “The world is waking up”. It seems that the environmental movement is close to its own tipping point. And fortunately, this is a positive one.

The only concern is that it really matters when we reach that tipping point, as millions of people are already suffering, and what’s on the horizon, if we don’t reach our positive tipping point first, is far worse.

Now is the time to double down, to ramp up, to give this everything we have. So please, get involved however you can. As the title of the Climate Summit states, this is a race we must win.

This Author 

Chris Macdonald is a scientist and author. His new book Operation Sustainable Human is out now. To get in touch with Chris, you can visit his Instagram page: @ChrisMacdonaldOfficial

Image: European Parliament, Flickr