UN meets after biggest climate protest ever

Action now: Young people across the world held “die-ins”, feigning collapse outside government buildings.

Is it time to stop pretending? Despite the UN climate summit today — and despite the millions who marched this weekend — our progress on reaching our climate crisis goals has been negligible.

Two-hundred world leaders. Six-hundred meetings. The United Nations (UN) summit begins today in New York.

Top of the agenda is the Climate Action Summit, where 60 leaders are meeting to discuss green strategies to secure the future of our planet. Green energy, youth mobilisation and plans for net-zero carbon emissions are all on the table.

Ahead of the meeting, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said the five-year period from 2014 to 2019 is the warmest on record.

Rising sea-levels have speeded up and CO2 emissions have hit new highs.

Almost 90 multi-national companies in industries ranging from food to telecommunications pledged to slash their carbon emissions.

There is one particularly notable absence. Donald Trump has declined to attend the climate summit over two years since he pulled the USA out of the Paris climate agreement.

But the leaders who DO attend are acting amid soaring pressure from their voters to take radical action to save the planet.

In September last year, a lone 15-year-old girl sat outside the Swedish parliament with a sign reading: “School strike for the climate”, and a movement was sparked.

On Friday, millions of people in 185 countries took to the streets in the biggest climate protest ever. The demonstrations began in the Pacific Islands, where thousands called on wealthy countries to help rescue their nations from rising sea levels. In New York, home of today’s summit, 1.1 million schoolchildren missed school to march.

Yesterday, high in the Swiss mountains, activists held a funeral for one of the most studied alpine glaciers, Pizol. Global heating has caused it to shrink so much that it has practically disappeared. Hundreds of people took part in a memorial in Iceland, a few weeks ago, for the once-gigantic Okjokull glacier.

Against this backdrop, a bitter row has been building over how we should respond. One of the world’s most respected magazines, The New Yorker, just published a cover story by one of America’s greatest living novelists, Jonathan Franzen.

Titled: “What If We Stopped Pretending?” the essay argues that the climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.

So, what do we think? Is it time to stop pretending?

Face the facts

Of course, argues Franzen. He says that we have made “no progress” towards solving the climate crisis despite 30 years of efforts. The future of our planet is “earth-massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding… If you're under thirty, you're all but guaranteed to witness it.” In order to prepare for the oncoming crisis, we must first admit that we cannot prevent it.

But many others are furious with The New Yorker and with Franzen’s “climate doomism”. “It’s hard to imagine major outlets publishing essays declaring efforts to reduce poverty hopeless, or telling cancer patients to just give up,” writes climate journalist John Upton. Scientist Leah Stokes agrees: “Every molecule of carbon counts. Every tenth of a degree warming avoided counts. What we do matters.”

You Decide

  1. Will the climate crisis turn out okay in the end?
  2. Do we humans have a fatal weakness for comforting fantasies?

Activities

  1. Look at the photos of some of the global protests this weekend. Make your own climate change poster.
  2. Using your own research, write a one-page news report on Friday’s global climate protest.

Some People Say...

“There is an infinite amount of hope in the universe [...] but not for us.”

Franz Kafka (1883-1924), German writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On Friday, a global day of climate protest was held ahead of today’s UN Climate Action Summit, where 60 world leaders will discuss measures to deal with the climate crisis. In the UK, 100,000 people were estimated to have attended a rally in London, and thousands more took parts in protests across the country. There is no official tally of how many people took part in protests across the globe, but the figure is thought to be in the many millions.
What do we not know?
What the results of the climate summit will be. In The New York Times, Somini Sengupta argues that world leaders are not truly invested in radically combating the climate crisis as they have “deep ties to the industries that are the biggest sources of planet-warming emissions” and are “hostile to protest”.

Word Watch

United Nations
An inter-governmental organisation with 193 member states, which was founded at the end World War Two to prevent future conflict between nations.
Attend
He has instead chosen to attend a UN meeting on religious freedoms.
Paris climate agreement
Almost 200 countries have committed to take action to keep global warming below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The agreement has been criticised for lacking in concrete commitments.
School strike for the climate
“Skolstrejk för klimatet”, Greta Thunberg’s sign read in Swedish.
Glaciers
A long-lasting body of dense ice that shifts under its own weight. Glaciers across the world have been retreating since 1850.

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