New York’s failing climate summit – POLITICO
There were low expectations going into Monday’s U.N. climate summit. They ended up being pretty accurate.
Despite fiery words from U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, the pledges made in New York didn’t amount to any kind of a climate revolution.
More than 60 countries did commit to the target of becoming climate neutral by 2050 — one of the goals set for the summit by Guterres, but the biggest polluters ended up with a case of stage fright. Guterres had hopes of getting countries to commit to phasing out new coal-fired power plant construction by 2020 and bolstering national plans to cut emissions.
The European Union, which sees itself as a global climate leader, was unable to make the mid-century climate neutrality pledge — four of its 28 member countries blocked the target, fearful of the economic cost of a rapid cut in emissions.
That didn’t stop European Council President Donald Tusk from claiming that “Europe will win the race to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent.”
Even that promise was more than other significant emitters were prepared to make.
More than 60 countries did commit to the target of becoming climate neutral by 2050 — one of the goals set for the summit by Guterres, but the biggest polluters ended up with a case of stage fright.
China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, made no new promises in New York, but did take a jab at U.S. President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax,” dismissed his own federal scientists’ findings that fossil fuels effects on the planet are hitting every corner of the U.S. and signaled he would exit the Paris climate accord.
“The withdrawal of certain parties will not shake the international community,” said Wang Yi, a special representative of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
French President Emmanuel Macron also touched on U.S. climate policy, warning: “I don’t want to see new trade negotiations with countries who are running counter to the Paris Agreement.”
The United States didn’t even address the summit. However, Trump did surprise those at the conference by showing up for 14 minutes and listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, before leaving.
“Hopefully our discussions today will be useful to you when you formulate climate policy,” former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg joked from the stage after thanking Trump for attending.
Modi doubled down on India’s plans to expand renewable power, but made no promises on curtailing coal consumption.
Japan’s environment minister, speaking at a side event, said he would reduce his nation’s coal combustion, which has risen steadily after a turn away from nuclear power following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, but didn’t offer how. “I just became the environment minister last week,” Shinjirō Koizumi said.
Russia said it would ratify the Paris Agreement, but didn’t spell out any emissions cuts.
Instead, the international community will likely have to wait, possibly until next year, for countries to punch up their climate pledges. By then, the U.S. will either have a new Democratic president-elect, sending a signal about enhanced involvement from the world’s top historical emitter. Or it will have another four years of Trump, extending the vacuum created by the absence of the U.S. from climate diplomacy.
If looks could kill
While at the summit, Trump strolled past Thunberg, who stared daggers at the climate-skeptic U.S. leader.
Captured by @Reuters Andrew Hofstetter: @GretaThunberg watches Trump arrive at the #UNGA. Thunberg condemned world leaders for failing to take strong measures to combat climate change: ‘You have stolen my dreams’ https://t.co/e9VfOa2kwW pic.twitter.com/kbJqF4rvxc
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) September 23, 2019
Thunberg’s palpable anger at seeing Trump was also on full display when she lambasted world leaders. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” she told them, adding: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
Guterres was also unsparing in his criticism. “Nature is angry and we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature because nature always strikes back and around the world nature is striking back with fury.”
He chastised governments for giving “trillions in hard-earned taxpayers’ money to the fossil fuel industry to boost hurricanes, spread tropical diseases, and heighten conflict,” as well as plans for building “ever more coal plants that are choking our future.”
The sense of urgency from Guterres is shared by many scientists. Another alarming report came out last week from the World Meteorological Organization, which found that the previous five years were the hottest period on record, and that global temperatures have risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times. That leaves just 0.4 degrees before hitting the lower limit of the targets agreed in 2015 in Paris.
Another report on the state of the oceans is due to be delivered later this week.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words” — Greta Thunberg to U.N. leaders
That drumbeat of grim science is sparking a global protest movement. Millions of people took to the streets on Friday calling for more urgent climate action.
It’s also become a political priority, as voters shift to parties with stronger climate policies.
European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has made her so-called European Green Deal her No. 1 priority, including becoming climate neutral by 2050.
That’s leading to growing pressure on EU countries to ditch their attachment to fossil fuels. On Friday, Germany promised a €54-billion program to go green.
In New York, Macron criticized Poland for leading the resistance to the 2050 net-zero goal.
“We had the carbon neutrality agenda of 2050, we have four countries that blocked, the reality is there is one country that blocked everything, it’s Poland. My objective over the next few months is to convince the Polish to move,” he said.
NGOs expressed disappointment at the lackluster results from New York.
“Most of the major economies fell woefully short. Their lack of ambition stands in sharp contrast with the growing demand for action around the world,” said Andrew Steer, head of the World Resources Institute.
Von der Leyen’s European Green Deal is leading to growing pressure on EU countries to ditch their attachment to fossil fuels.
The action now shifts to Santiago, which hosts the COP25 climate talks this December. But the same cautious dynamic that played out in New York is likely to be repeated in Chile.
“We need our young people in our countries to tell us to work faster,” Macron said. “We need the young people to help us to change things.”
Ben Lefebvre and Rym Momtaz contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: This article was updated to correct the misattribution of a quote. The World Resources Institute’s head Andrew Steer spoke with POLITICO.