Global Protests to Call for Urgent Action on Climate

Global Protests to Call for Urgent Action on Climate 1
Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

From Toronto to Taiwan, Newcastle to Nairobi, protest organizers hoped to draw millions of people to the streets on Saturday to demand urgent action against a climate crisis that is already flooding cities, wiping towns off the map, destroying forests, and fueling storms, heat waves and droughts around the world.

Over the past week, world leaders and diplomats from hundreds of countries have gathered at the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, making lofty pronouncements and announcing progress, including landmark agreements to end deforestation and reduce methane emissions. But the commitments would, at best, slow the rate of global warming, not halt it.

For millions of activists across the globe, including many young people alarmed about inheriting a planet on the brink of disaster, the talks amount to what Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish climate activist, on Friday called a “two-week-long celebration of business as usual and ‘blah, blah, blah.’”

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The activist Greta Thunberg criticized world leaders’ climate efforts, speaking to the thousands protesting in Glasgow outside the United Nations summit.Jon Super/Associated Press

Capturing the global mood of impatience and frustration among her allies, Ms. Thunberg, who has helped galvanize a generation to action, castigated world leaders for empty promises. Speaking to thousands of protesters at a youth-led rally in Glasgow on Friday, she called the United Nations talks a “failure.”

“The leaders are not doing nothing,” she said. “They are actively creating loopholes, shaping frameworks to benefit themselves to continue profiting from this destructive system.”

Her words were greeted with cheers.

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Moments before she spoke, Vanessa Nakate, an activist from Uganda, bemoaned the inaction that had followed previous international climate talks.

“How many more of these should they hold until they realize that their inactions are destroying the planet?” she asked.

But Michael E. Mann, a prominent climate scientist, took to Twitter to defend the summit, however short it might fall of what is needed. “Activists declaring it dead on arrival makes fossil fuel executives jump for joy,” he wrote.

The conference has underlined the socio-economic disparities shaping global climate policy, in some cases pitting advanced industrialized countries like the United States and European Union nations against emerging economies, including China, India and South Africa. On Friday, activists from South America, Central America, Africa and Asia berated their leaders for failed climate policies and criticized international leaders for ignoring the developing world.

As many as 100,000 people were expected to take the streets of Glasgow on Saturday. Climate activists from across the world have arrived in the city this week, demanding change, disrupting talks held by gas giants and staging theatrical spectacles on the fringes of the summit.

But the presence of environmental activists inside the meeting itself has been muted, in part because of pandemic restrictions, and some were unable to attend the event at all.

Within the conference, countries are debating how to deliver on the unmet promises of years past, including a pledge of $100 billion in annual aid from 2020 to 2025 from wealthy countries to help poorer ones adapt to a warming planet.

Countries that are most at risk from the effects of climate change in the developing world are also pushing major carbon-emitting nations to increase their annual targets to keep global temperatures from rising past 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with levels before the Industrial Revolution.

Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

Young activists have been at the forefront of protests and calls this past week for urgent action on global warming, demanding that a U.N. climate conference in Glasgow produce real, meaningful change out of fear that they are inheriting a world on the brink of a climate catastrophe.

Many young activists say they want more than just reduced carbon emissions. Those protesting in the city are also demanding strategies to tackle poverty, inequality, sexism and racism.

“We are here because we care about the climate and we feel that the more people that come here, the better the chance that the government will take notice and feel the pressure to do something,” Rudy Sinclair, a 16-year-old on a school strike from Lourdes secondary school in Glasgow, said at protests in the city on Friday.

“The government has been talking about climate change for about 10 years. They say all these things, but they haven’t been meeting the targets,” he said. “For me, it’s the last chance to do something before it’s too late.”

Kaia Sweetman, a 16-year-old from Edinburgh, said at the protests that politicians and other leaders were not doing enough to act against climate change.

“It’s words and no action,” she said. “Most of us are very pessimistic about the future, because we see most of the older generation don’t care enough about what’s happening to the climate.”

If the politicians don’t do anything, she said, “the planet could become a massive fireball.”

Laura Kelly, a 16-year-old from Edinburgh, held up a banner that read, “Action now or swim later.”

“Time is important, and we are running out of it,” she said. “The awareness that COP is creating is good, but I think that what the politicians are doing is not enough. It doesn’t seem like they are listening.”

Marine Ourahli, 20, a French student who was in Glasgow for the demonstrations, said she felt she was part of the problem.

“I feel I should be vegan and I shouldn’t be part of the consumerist society, though in fact I love to buy things,” she said, adding the caveat that individual changes are not enough.

“I really want to have hope, but we have to change things now,” she said. “We need to change industry. We need to change the way we live and the way we eat.”

Then there was Philip Klein, 10, who was out of his Glasgow school to attend a march with his father and a schoolmate. His presence was a potent reminder of what is at stake.

“I want a good future,” Philip said. “Hopefully we can fix it.”

Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

GLASGOW — Presidents and prime ministers have left town. Now the hard work starts, with diplomats hunkering down in a cavernous tent complex at the U.N. climate talks here for the next week and a half, trying to hammer out deals to cut planet-warming emissions.

More nations than ever are pledging to reduce emissions, move away from coal, eliminate deforestation and deliver money to help poor countries adapt. Environmental groups and poor nations aren’t as optimistic. They have seen promises come and go before.

Here are five takeaways from the early, frenetic days of the climate conference:

Holding a global conference in a pandemic is hard.

More than 39,000 people are registered for the summit. One problem: Capacity in the main venue is limited to 10,000 people because of Covid restrictions.

That has led to bottlenecks, long security lines and frustration, especially among civil society groups that were already angry that the U.N. had capped their presence inside the negotiating halls.

Everyone entering the venue, known as the “blue zone,” is asked to take a daily rapid coronavirus test. But for all the talk of strict controls, participants simply self-report their results. It’s basically an honor system.

The United States ‘showed up.’

For nearly four years, the United States worked to undermine the progress of climate talks. Former President Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement and vowed to burn more, not less, gas, oil and coal.

President Biden arrived in Glasgow and flipped the script. He promised to show the world that the United States is “leading by the power of our example.”

Asked about the leaders of other countries, particularly those of China and Russia, who did not attend, Mr. Biden said, “We showed up.”

But some pivotal leaders didn’t.

The absences of President Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil were notable.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia did show up — but with an emissions target that experts said falls far short of what’s needed. Brazil pledged to end deforestation by 2028. Activists are skeptical that Mr. Bolsonaro will follow through.

Both Russia and China have targets that, experts say, are not enough to keep the planet on a relatively safe trajectory. Leaving Glasgow, Mr. Biden scolded Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin for not attending. Officials in Beijing hit back, noting Mr. Biden was unable to persuade his own party to vote for climate legislation necessary to meet the United States’ aggressive targets.

Sparring won’t solve the climate crisis. And it remains unclear whether the two biggest emitters, China and the United States, can move past tensions over trade and human rights to work together.

Money was pledged, but will it flow?

Banks and other lenders said they had $130 trillion to finance projects that aim to get companies and countries to net-zero emissions. The number, more than five times the size of the U.S. economy, grabbed headlines.

Environmentalists quickly threw cold water on it, arguing that scant details were provided and that banks still invest hundreds of billions of dollars in fossil fuels each year.

The next target: Ending coal

Poland, Vietnam, Egypt, Chile and Morocco are among 18 countries that will pledge Thursday to phase out coal-fired generation and stop building new plants. The British hosts of the U.N. conference want to leave their mark by ensuring the end of coal “is in sight.”

Yet the issue is deeply contentious. At the start of the summit, the prime minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, told Mr. Morrison of Australia that “coal has no place in this century.” Mr. Morrison has clearly said he won’t discuss fossil fuel mandates or bans.

Expect more pushback in the coming days from Australia, as well as China, India and Russia, to any language formalizing a phaseout of coal in any final decision from the summit.

Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

The United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow is considered a crucial moment for efforts to address the threat of global warming.

Thousands of heads of state, diplomats and activists are meeting to set new targets for cutting emissions from burning coal, oil and gas that are heating the planet. The conference is held annually, but this year is critical because scientists say that nations must make an immediate, sharp pivot away from fossil fuels if they hope to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

What is the goal?

The goal is to prevent the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with levels before the Industrial Revolution. That is the threshold beyond which scientists say the dangers of global warming — such as deadly heat waves, water shortages, crop failures and ecosystem collapse — grow immensely.

What does COP stand for?

The gathering’s name, COP, stands for Conference of the Parties, with “parties” referring in diplomatic parlance to the 197 nations that agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. That year, the United States and some other countries ratified the treaty to address “dangerous human interference with the climate system” and stabilize levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

This is the 26th time countries have gathered under the convention — hence COP26.

What happened at previous talks?

The first COP was in Berlin in 1995, after a critical mass of nations ratified the climate convention. It was a milestone and set the stage two years later for the Kyoto Protocol, which required wealthy, industrialized nations to curb emissions.

That accord had its problems. Among them, the United States under President George W. Bush rejected it, noting that it did not require China, India and other major emerging economies to reduce their greenhouse gases.

Fast-forward to 2015. After more than two decades of disputes over which nations bear the most responsibility for tackling climate change, leaders of nearly 200 countries signed the Paris climate agreement. That deal was considered groundbreaking. For the first time, rich and poor countries agreed to act, albeit at different paces, to tackle climate change.

The United States withdrew from the Paris accord under President Donald J. Trump but rejoined under President Biden.

Although leaders made big promises in Paris, countries have not made sufficient moves to stave off the worst effects of climate change. At the Glasgow conference, which runs through Nov. 12, leaders are under pressure to be more ambitious.

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