Issue 5/2019

No surprises in New York

Joachim Wille, 30 Oct 19
The results of the recent climate summit convened by UN Secretary General António Guterres were disappointing. Among the more hopeful messages was India’s pledge to boost solar power, while Greta Thunberg chastised world leaders for their apathy.

UN Secretary General António Guterres had set the bar high, exhorting heads of state and government planning to attend the climate action summit in New York to bring “concrete plans, not speeches” in pursuit of ambitious carbon reduction targets. “This is not a climate negotiation summit because we don’t negotiate with nature. This is a climate action summit,” he told his audience.

However, the biggest players either neglected to contribute to the summit at all, like the US, or displayed a disappointing lack of ambition, like China. Even so, numerous countries pledged to redouble their efforts in the fight against runaway global warming. Around 70 nations promised to submit ambitious plans in advance of the 2020 deadline set out in the Paris agreement on climate change. A group of 77 countries, including some industrialised nations, announced plans to become “climate-neutral” by 2050.

The Chinese delegate Wang Yi merely reiterated his country’s intention to comply with the targets set out in the Paris accord, dashing hopes that the world’s biggest polluter might start reducing its emissions before its previous commitment of 2030. In contrast, the announcement by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi of plans to increase the country’s target for solar expansion from 227 to 450 gigawatts (GW) came as a ray of hope – though when it came to coal policy, Modi failed to impress. 75 percent of the power consumed on the Indian subcontinent is generated from coal.

Thunberg vs Trump

Earlier, Guterres had urged coal-reliant countries to step up efforts to wean themselves off the dirty fuel. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) presented her government’s freshly unveiled climate package, along with the plan to phase out coal by 2038. In a nod to the fierce criticism the package has attracted in Germany, she argued that “for a transformation as profound as this one, we have to make sure everyone is on board,” implying that greater ambition would have made the measures unpalatable.

Merkel also pledged to increase Germany’s contribution to international climate financing to EUR 4 billion. In reference to the Fridays for Future protests, she said “We have all heard the wake-up call of our youth.” After her address, she briefly sat next to the initiator of the protests, Greta Thunberg, who had delivered an impassioned speech at the start of the proceedings. US president Donald Trump, who briefly attended the summit, later took to Twitter to mock the teenager, writing “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”.

The tweet attracted thousands of largely negative comments. In spite of the paltry results, Guterres hailed the summit as a success, declaring: “Today, in this hall, the world saw clear ambition and concrete initiatives” – but warned that further efforts were needed to bring about a climate-neutral world by 2050. The next scheduled climate change conference will be held in Chile in December.


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