Tensions ran high at the UN Climate Summit in New York when United Nations Secretary (UN) General Antonio Guterres challenged leaders to no longer invest in new coal projects after 2020, followed by young climate activist Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech on how these same leaders have failed her and her generation in taking climate action.
However, the summit did witness many leaders announcing concrete climate action plans by 2020, 2030 and 2050.
One of the most important developments at the summit was that Russia ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, leaving Turkey the only remaining G20 country not to do so.
Countries including France, the U.K., Argentina, Costa Rica, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden announced a new Climate Ambition Alliance bringing the number of nations to 59 which also promised to submit a stronger action plan in 2020.
Another 11 countries, including India, China and some European Union countries, signed up to start exploring national commitments towards climate plans while Austria, Chile, Italy, Japan and Timor-Leste declared membership to the Carbon Neutrality Coalition.
The coalition helps countries develop plans to move towards net zero emissions by 2050.
Another 66 countries started to work on net zero-emission targets.
A remarkable announcement came from Greece, which committed to ending coal use by 2028, with a plan to start dismantling coal plants in 2020.
Coal plants account for around a quarter of the country's total installed capacity.
Germany’s performance was considered disappointing at the summit as German Chancellor Angela Merkel repeated the country's current plans to phase out coal plants by 2038 without further concrete plans.
Above all the declarations and determination plans, the angry but touching voice of sixteen-year-old Thurnberg during her speech at the opening of the summit will be remembered for berating those assembled.
"My message is that we will be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean," she said.
"You have come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my childhood with empty words. Yet, I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering, people are dying. All you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear," she said.
The U.S. President Donald Trump who already decided to withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement left the summit after he listened to Thunberg's speech and later tweeted in a mocking tone “She seems very happy!”
The question "How dare you?" began to trend on Twitter during the day while cameras captured Thunberg's angry stare at Trump just before the summit started.
Guterres's closing remarks at the summit concluded that the world has a long way to go to keep the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, echoing Thurnberg's message.
- Funding for climate action increases
Several institutions and banks announced commitments to aligning to 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold.
Qatar pledged $100 million to fund climate action and resilience in small island states and least developed countries.
The Green Climate Fund reached $7.4 billion with eight countries, including Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, the United Kingdom, Germany and South Korea pledging to the fund.
The target for the fund in support of climate action in developing countries is to reach $10 billion.
-100 banks to set corporate-level business
One hundred banks, worth $35 trillion, committed to setting corporate-level business targets.
Eighty-seven companies with a total value of $2.3 trillion, and annual climate impact equivalent to 73 coal-fired power plants agreed to reduce emissions. Following this announcement, the UN-convened Asset Owner Alliance committed to transitioning to carbon-neutral investment portfolios by 2050.
The alliance, a group of the world’s largest pension funds and insurers, is responsible for directing more than $2 trillion in investments.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya