Here’s What Happened at the U.N. Climate Summit

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On September 23rd, government officials from roughly 200 countries gathered for a United Nations summit on climate change. The U.N. climate summit followed the youth climate strikes of September 20th, which drew students out of classrooms and into the streets all over the world. In fact, the activist most strongly associated with the strikes was among the U.N. climate summit’s most prominent speakers.

Here’s a rundown of everything that happened at the U.N. climate summit, an event about arguably the world’s most pressing issue

Climate negotiations restarted

In 2015, hundreds of countries signed the Paris Agreement, which intended to minimize their contributions to climate change (Russia only just formally signed onto the agreement at the climate summit). However, most countries that have signed the agreement are far behind in meeting the Paris Agreement’s targets. In response, the officials present at the U.N. climate summit began early negotiations for 2020, which is the next deadline by which countries in the Paris Agreement need to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

But experts said it’s not enough

Despite the conversations and negotiations of the U.N. climate summit, most experts agreed that the outcomes achieved aren’t yet enough. Although 65 countries agreed to more strictly limit their negative impacts on the climate, this number is only a fraction of the countries that initially signed the Paris Agreement. Additionally, leading greenhouse gas emitters such as China and India failed to outline how and when their pledges to expand their climate plans would take effect (though China has remained in line with the commitments it made for the initial Paris Agreement).

The U.S. remained noncommittal

Worsening matters is that the U.S., under the Trump administration, has continued to resist committing to drastic climate change measures. In fact, President Trump wasn’t invited to attend the U.N. climate summit because the U.S. continues to invest in fossil fuels that release immense amounts of greenhouse gases. However, Trump did ultimately appear at the summit, though only for 15 minutes. In that time, he heard remarks from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and German chancellor Angela Merkel, though he was only observed clapping for the former.

Greta Thunberg delivered an urgent speech

Over the course of 2019, Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg has become the international face of youth climate activism. She opened the U.N. climate summit with a speech as urgent as it was angry. 

Thunberg referred to climate change as the next mass extinction, accused governments that fail to act on climate change of stealing her childhood (and, by extension, her entire generation’s livelihoods), and discouraged the notion of “business as usual and some technical solutions” as proper ways to address climate change. In general, her speech struck a tone of immense dissatisfaction, and she even went so far as to say that the U.N. climate summit wasn’t nearly bold enough to truly address climate change.

What are your thoughts on climate change? Leave a comment to weigh in!

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