World Leaders Attend UN Climate Summit as Fossil Fuel Execs Dine Politicians Nearby
“I see a new momentum. I believe in these last few months [there has been] a turning point.”
World leaders gathered at the UN climate summit in New York City on Monday in the wake of a massive youth-led climate protest that saw millions of people protest for action on climate change. Swedish teenaged activist Greta Thunberg spoke at the event in a condemnation of the world’s leaders and their tepid response to the crisis.
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here,” said Thunberg. “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean, yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you?”
“You are failing us, but the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.”
The summit comes as global carbon emissions continue to increase despite the International Panel on Climate Change’s repeated warnings of environmental calamity. According to Stand.earth, the fossil fuel industry will spend $1.4 trillion to expand production around the world over the next five years.
“Climate change causes and impacts are increasing rather than slowing down,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement for the summit. “Sea level rise has accelerated and we are concerned that an abrupt decline in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, which will exacerbate future rise. As we have seen this year with tragic effect in the Bahamas and Mozambique, sea level rise and intense tropical storms led to humanitarian and economic catastrophes.”
Talaas said that carbon emissions continue to increase, shrinking the window to cut back emissions before the world surpasses the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Talaas said the world would have to multiply its efforts to cut emissions by five to stay below 1.5 Celsius, and triple them to stay under the threshold of 2 degrees Celsius.
“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing,” Thunberg said. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business as usual and some technical solutions?”
Oil and Gas Industry Continues to Rub Elbows With Politicians
Thunberg’s condemnation of “business as usual” came as fossil fuel executives and public officials gathered at the Morgan Library and Museum blocks away from the U.N. Climate Summit in a meeting organized by the industry-led Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI). Government officials also dined with fossil fuel executives ahead of the summit at Gramercy Park Hotel in New York Sunday night.
Critics argue the industry that caused the climate crisis and funded disinformation campaigns to spread confusion about science should not be able to dictate climate policy.
As Common Dreams reported, activists held a banner that said “ExxonKnew: Make Them Pay” outside of the OGCI meeting at Morgan Library. The protesters were referring to how Exxon’s scientists warned the company about the human impact on climate change decades ago, but executives chose to conceal their research and fund climate denialism propaganda.
Leaders like German Prime Minister Angela Merkel and French President Macron said the summit moved them to take on greater commitments against climate change.
“I was very struck by the emotion in the room,” Macron said. “I think they’ve identified an absolute urgency that we have to respond to here.”
The summit was meant only for countries that plan to take action to reduce emissions, with diplomats from Saudi Arabia and Brazil absent as well as Japan and Australia, countries that are still increasing their coal production. President Trump, who denies climate change and appointed a coal lobbyist to head the Environmental Protection Agency, was reported to avoid the summit in favor of a “religious freedom” conference, but was seen in the audience for around 10 minutes before leaving.
Indian and Chinese representatives attended, however, despite the majority of India’s energy coming from coal and China’s place as the biggest financier of coal production in the world.
“I see a new momentum,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said. “I believe in these last few months [there has been] a turning point. Six months ago, I must tell you, I was quite pessimistic about everything. I would see no movement, now I see a lot of movement and we need to boost that movement.”