'People are dying': Teen activist urges new climate action at UN

At least 59 countries have pledged to submit enhanced plans as the U.N. pursues goals of a 45 percent reduction by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.

By Brooks Hays
'People are dying': Teen activist urges new climate action at UN
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the Climate Action Summit at the 74th General Debate at the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York City on September 23, 2019. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 23 (UPI) -- World leaders and environmental policy makers laid out the details of more ambitious carbon reduction plans at Monday's Climate Action Summit in New York City.

The leaders were implored to act -- and chastised for not acting sooner -- in a speech by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg.


"You are failing us," Thunberg told the politicians and policy makers assembled at UN headquarters. "But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you."

"We will not let you get away with this," Thunberg said. "Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not."

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At least partially motivated by the uprising of youth activists around the world, leaders at Monday's summit agreed that more must be done, and quickly, to address the climate crisis.


Increasingly grave threat

At least 59 countries pledged to submit an enhanced climate action plan, according to a press release touting a more ambitious version of the Nationally Determined Contributions agreed to at the Paris climate agreement. At least 11 nations have already begun internal reviews to find ways to strengthen their plans.

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Climate scientists claim the world's governments must work to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst of climate change's impacts. But several studies suggest current efforts to curb emissions and slow warming are insufficient.

"The best science, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, tells us that any temperature rise above 1.5 degrees will lead to major and irreversible damage to the ecosystems that support us," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a press release on Monday. "Science tells us that on our current path, we face at least 3-degrees Celsius of global heating by the end of the century. The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win."

According to researchers at the United Nations, carbon emissions must be cut 45 percent by 2030 and the global economy needs to be carbon neutral by 2050 in order to limit warming.


New proposals to curb emissions

At Monday's summit, Chile's president Sebastián Piñera announced the Climate Ambition Alliance, which calls on member states to solidify carbon reduction plans by 2020 and detail steps each can take to collectively reduce emissions on par with UN recommendations.

French president Emmanuel Macron said France would not negotiate new trade deals with countries that don't abide by the Paris climate agreement.

New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern echoed Macron's call for the use of trade negotiations for encouraging emissions reductions. During her keynote speech, she called on nations to institute carbon taxes or emissions trading schemes in order to reduce CO2 emissions and encourage investment in renewable energy.

Several of the attendees at the Climate Action Summit detailed their nation's commitment to the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which calls on members to end the construction of new coal plants by 2020 and begin the transition to renewable energy sources.

One way to stop fossil fuel production, Guterres suggested, would be to stop subsidizing it.

"Is it common sense to give trillions in hard-earned taxpayers' money to the fossil fuel industry to boost hurricanes, spread tropical diseases, and heighten conflict?" he said in his speech. "Is it common sense to build ever more coal plants that are choking our future?"


Summit participants also discussed plans for financing the development of renewable energy technologies.

"The International Development Finance Club -- a leading group of 24 national and regional development banks from all over the world, with a majority active in emerging and developing countries -- is to announce for the first time a quantitative target of mobilizing $1 trillion by 2025, with at least $100 million for adaptation," according to the UN.

Nations at the summit also discussed efforts for conservation. Several studies, including one published by the UN, have highlighted the need to altering land use trends. Currently, too many forests are being cleared for agriculture and other types of human development.

Even if nations can come together to drastically reduce global emissions and slow climate change, global warming is likely to continue to impact many communities. Several of Monday's meetings involved discussions on how to build sustainable infrastructure and pool financial resources to protect vulnerable communities from the effects of global warming.

Greta implores leaders to act

In her speech, Thunberg reminded world leaders that the victims of global warming will be young people, especially women.

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I'm one of the lucky ones," the 16-year-old activist from Sweden said. "People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing."


Thunberg also called on attendees not to assume her generation will be able to suck excess CO2 out of the air with "technologies that barely exist," and to commit to emissions reductions beyond 2030.

Cutting emissions in half over the next decade would only offer the world a 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, she said.

"A 50 percent risk is simply not acceptable to us -- we who have to live with the consequences," Thunberg said.

Greta and 15 other youth climate activists filed a lawsuit over the climate chance crisis against five countries on Monday. The lawsuit alleges the five countries -- Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey -- violated their human rights by not acting address climate change. The lawsuit would force the countries to work toward more aggressive carbon emissions reduction goals.

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