Climate Strikes: Their Impact

Last week, in the world of climate activism, an estimated 6 million people globally took to the streets (including a whopping 3.5% of New Zealand’s population marching); Greta Thurberg delivered her emotionally charged ‘How Dare You?’ speech to world leaders at the UN Climate Summit in New York; and 16 teenage activists filed a law suit against Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey for contravening the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by not sufficiently reducing their carbon emissions.

Greta Thunberg’s speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit

As the pleas for urgent climate action become louder and more desperate, has this translated into any tangible political action? This latest wave of climate strikes were timed to coincide with the UN Climate Action Summit. However, Summit outcomes haven’t appeared to be widely reported in the mainstream media (the focus primarily being on Thunberg’s speech and whether Trump was going to turn up or not – he did). The UN’s summary closing statement sums up some positive movements by many countries and also ‘unprecedented’ private sector actions. I also found this Vox article which both commends and is critical of the Summit’s progress.

Some notable positive actions committed to during the Summit are:

  • A ‘net zero’ carbon emissions commitment by 2050 by 65 countries, ten regions and over 100 cities
  • Several wealthier countries announced contributions the Green Climate Fund which assists developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change impacts.
  • Divestment – 87 major companies with investments worth $2.3 trillion will divest from carbon intensive industries.
  • Banking – one third of the world’s banking sector committed to align their operations with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • Goodbye coal – 30 countries, 22 states, and 21 companies will work towards ending their dependence on coal.
  • No to oil and gas exploration – some countries (including France and New Zealand) said they won’t permit exploration within or off-shore from their countries.

Alongside all of these great steps in the right direction, it’s important to mention the actions (or inactions) of the world’s three largest emitters:

  • China is planning reducing its emissions by 12 billion tonnes of carbon each year, but this may not be enough to restrict warming to under 2 degrees Celcius (as per the Paris Agreement).
  • The USA did not speak at the Summit and Trump wants to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
  • India plans to more than double its renewable energy capacity over the next three years, but hasn’t committed to reducing coal use.
  • Both India and China want more financial assistance from developed countries towards addressing and adapting to climate change impacts.

It seems we are making some progress politically, with countries and other large economies and taking some solid action. I suspect the youth climate movement would say it is not enough or too little too late. Whether the latest strikes have influenced political will is hard to say, but the pressure on governments and business to stay true to their most recent commitments at the Climate Action Summit must continue. As the UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the end of the Summit, “You have delivered a boost in momentum, cooperation and ambition. But we have a long way to go.”


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