What to Expect From Today’s UN Climate Action Summit
Today is the United Nations Climate Action Summit, a gathering called by UN Secretary General António Guterres to encourage climate action ahead of 2020, the year when countries are due to up their pledges under the Paris agreement.
Guterres has asked countries to announce "concrete, realistic" steps that will reduce global emissions by 45 percent within the next decade and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Those goals are in line with last year's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which found emissions must fall around 50 percent within the next 11 years in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
"I want to hear about how we are going to stop the increase in emissions by 2020, and dramatically reduce emissions to reach net‑zero emissions by mid‑century," Guterres said when he announced the summit last year. "We need cities and States to shift from coal to solar and wind — from brown to green energy."
World leaders will gather tomorrow for #ClimateActionSummit. ClimateActionSummit. Don't forget people demand real, concrete commitments, not fancy speeches. #ClimateAction #ClimateChange https://t.co/yf9OW7aXpV— The UN Climate Action Summit (@UNClimateSummit) September 22, 2019
Guterres said he expected around 60 countries to announce steps to reduce emissions and support populations most vulnerable to the climate crisis, The New York Times reported. However, some key players are not expected to make significant commitments, including Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro and the U.S. under President Donald Trump. Bolsonaro wants to open the Amazon rainforest, an important carbon sink, to development and has been criticized for his handling of record wildfires there this summer. Trump, meanwhile, has promised to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement and has moved to roll back Obama-era controls on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and vehicles.
"The U.S. is not on track to meet its previous promises, let alone to make bigger ones," NPR science reporter Rebecca Hersher said Sunday on All Things Considered.
Countries that are likely to up their commitments include France, some other European nations, some small island nations and India, Hersher said.
However, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also said he would expand coal, according to The New York Times.
China, the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, had set itself a less ambitious target that it is likely to meet, and may therefore announce more ambitious targets, Hersher said. However, its state-owned companies are also promoting coal use, The New York Times explained.
Overall, several coal-supporting countries will have a spot on the summit podium today, The New York Times reported in another article. In addition to India and China, speakers will include Indonesia, the world's No. 1 thermal coal exporter, and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kenya, all countries where Chinese companies have built or are building coal plants.
The UN assigned speaking slots based on which countries submitted briefs explaining new, concrete plans to reduce emissions and help the most vulnerable cope with the crisis. No country who did so was denied a slot.
"We are not in a position to say, 'You're bad, you're good,'" Guterres said. "This is not a name-and-shame exercise."
Major oil and gas producing countries Russia and Qatar will also speak. Australia, Japan and the U.S. will not.
The summit comes after a global youth-led climate strike Friday saw around four million take to the streets in support of more ambitious climate action. The question is whether popular pressure can counter a diplomatic climate defined by a rise in authoritarian governments and a hostility to international agreements, The New York Times explained.
If countries stick only to their current Paris commitments, global temperatures will pass three degrees Celsius by 2100.
"The time window is closing and it's dramatically short for what we have to do," UN Development Program head Achim Steiner told The New York Times. "The protests are helpful because they show national leaders in their societies, in their countries, that the politics of climate change is changing and it is adding momentum and pressure to act."
Young people are the ones forcing #ClimateAction. Millions of you have made your voices heard. You have real power & will not take no for an answer.— UNYouth (@UN4Youth) September 22, 2019
This is a battle we can, & must win. @antonioguterres at the @UN Youth Climate Action Summit. pic.twitter.com/aBP178HKym
At the first-ever Youth Climate Summit Saturday, Guterres urged the more than 700 young activists in attendance to keep the pressure up on his generation.
"We will hold you accountable and if you do not, remember we will mobilize to vote you out," Fiji activist Komal Karishma Kumar responded, as the Associated Press reported.
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Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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