Last Friday was the final day of a week-long set of demonstrations which took place all around the world to protest against insufficient action being taken against major climate emergencies resulting from global climate change.
The week-long protests resulted partly from youth activist Greta Thunberg’s initiative, Fridays for Future, which has called on children and teenagers throughout the world to protest on various different Fridays since the start of the year. The central narrative in this discourse is that irresponsible politics and world leaders are not protecting the future of the next generations. This was organized to coincide with the UN Climate Action Summit, held between 21 and 23 September, to discuss proposals on how to tackle major issues tied to climate change that might exacerbate our problem and lead us to a point of no-return, according to leading experts. This includes setting a limit to the maximum temperature the world is allowed to reach, to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and in the oceans, and to the destruction of species which are crucial to maintaining a rich biodiversity in our ecosystems.
UN discussions have led to a series of promising measures with great potential to make a positive impact on our relationship to the environment. Among them are:
- Reducing worldwide emissions by 45% by the year 2030, increasing measures in order to reach net zero per cent emissions by the year 2050.
- Protecting forest cover in Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea. This would protect the livelihood of as many as 60 million people, as well as ensuring the continued rainfall in this area, thereby also protecting wildlife and biodiversity, and allowing the forest to continue to absorb and process CO2 from the atmosphere.
- To protect biodiversity throughout the world, partly by employing regenerative agriculture so as to strengthen dwindling numbers in certain species.
- Clean buildings. By 2030 all new buildings must meet net zero emissions requirements, while old buildings, which will need to be adapted in the next few decades, have until 2050 to comply.
- The Climate Investment Platform is setting aside as much as US$1 trillion for twenty of the least developed countries in the world to adopt clean energy by the year 2050.
- Small Island Developing States will seek to reach 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030, with the help of the international community.
- Ensuring a 3 per cent annual growth in energy efficiency throughout the world.
- Putting in place National Cooling Action Plans so as to stop the projected 90 per cent increase in emissions from air conditioning and refrigeration by 2050, compared to 2017 levels.
- Covering financially 500 million poor people against climate shocks, protected by governments, the private sector and multilateral organizations, as well as new and improved warning systems against natural disasters.
- New jobs, skills, technology and knowledge transfer adapted to rising environmental needs.
- Safe Air, ensuring a minimum air quality for all living beings.
- Pathways for carbon-intensive industries to turn to green energy and reach zero emissions by the year 2050.
- A 50 per cent reduction of emissions by the shipping industry by the year 2050.
Different levels of action are important. It is crucial that awareness is widespread and that our understanding of the risks is not superficial but as accurate as possible in order to mitigate the damages to all forms of life on Earth, starting with human life. The UN Climate Summit’s guidelines for countries to follow in the next couple of years are hopeful, but we must not let them become, as Greta Thunberg emotionally voiced it, “empty words”. There is reason for us to remain hopeful, besides the conclusions of last week’s Summit: awareness and concern are reaching unprecedented levels, as demonstrated by the September 2019 Climate Strikes, the largest demonstration for climate action in human history, taking place in 150 countries – around three quarters of the world. It is estimated that more than 4 million people participated in almost 5,000 cities. A quarter of a million people went on strike in New York, where Thunberg gave her most recent speech directed at world leaders; 300,000 in all of Australia; another 300,000 in the UK. The strike was most successful in Germany, where reports tell that 1.4 million attended the demonstrations.
The size and success of last week’s protests seems to have already had some of the desired effect. In Poland, the NGO ClientnEarth is suing Europe’s biggest coal plant for its use of brown coal, which is highly polluting, and demands that carbon emissions be eliminated by the year 2035. In the UK, the Labour Party has unveiled plans to build new state-owned wind farms, valued at more than £80 bn, so as to cut British emissions to zero. As the internet giant Google turns 21, it has signed 18 different agreements to obtain its energy supply from renewable energy sources, investing as much as $2bn. And the Swedish newspaper, Dagens ATC has announced it will cease advertising by fossil fuel firms.
Although there is still much to be done, these are hopeful indicators that we are leading our planet towards a brighter, greener future.