Climate experts hear talk, see little action
Leaders pledge to do more at UN, but critics aren’t impressed
UNITED NATIONS — Leader after leader told the United Nations on Monday that they will do more to prevent a warming world from reaching even more dangerous levels. But as they made their pledges at the Climate Action Summit, they and others conceded it was not enough.
Sixty-six countries have promised to have more ambitious climate goals and 30 swore to be carbon neutral by midcentury, said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera Echenique, who is hosting the next climate negotiations later this year.
Outside experts say they hear a lot of talk but not the promised action needed to keep warming to a few tenths of a degree. They say it isn’t adding up to the dramatic changes the world requires.
Bill Hare, who follows national emissions and promises for Climate Action Tracker, called what was said “deeply disappointing” and not adding up too much.
“The ball they are moving forward is a ball of promises,” said economist John Reilly, codirector of MIT’s Joint Center for Global Change. “Where the ‘ball’ of actual accomplishments is, is another question. We have not seen global emissions drop dramatically — they dropped for a couple of years but crept back up. So the ball of accomplishments is well behind the ball of promises.”
David Waskow, international climate chief at the World Resources Institute, said smaller nations are making commitments, but the big carbon polluters — the U.S., China, the European Union and others that make up the majority of emissions — still aren’t stepping up.
“What we’ve seen so far is not the kind of climate leadership we need from the major economies,” said World Resources Institute Vice President Helen Mountford.
Heads of nations such as Finland and Germany promised to ban coal within a decade. Several also mentioned goals of climate neutrality — when a country is not adding more heat-trapping carbon to the air than is being removed by plants and perhaps technology — by 2050.
President Donald Trump dropped by the summit, listened to German Chancellor Angela Merkel make detailed pledges, including going coal-free, and left without saying anything to attend to what he saw as the main event: a meeting on protecting religious freedom.
Trump said it was an “urgent moral duty” for world leaders to stop crimes against faith, release prisoners of conscience and repeal laws restricting religious liberty.
The United States did not ask to have someone speak at the climate summit, U.N. officials said. And Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had told countries they couldn’t be on the agenda without making bold new proposals.
Even though there was no speech by Trump, who has denied climate change, and repealed U.S. carbon-reduction policies, he was talked about.
In a none-too-subtle jibe at Trump’s plans to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said countries “must honor our commitments and follow through on the Paris Agreement.”
“The withdrawal of certain parties will not shake the collective goal of the world community,” Wang said to applause.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the U.N.’s special climate envoy, thanked Trump for stopping by, adding that it might prove useful “when you formulate climate policy,” drawing a bit of laughter and applause on the floor of the General Assembly.
Before world leaders made their promises in three-minute speeches, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg gave an emotional appeal in which she chided the leaders with the repeated phrase, “How dare you.”
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here,” said Thunberg, who began a lone protest outside the Swedish parliament more than a year ago that culminated in Friday’s global climate strikes. “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you have come to us young people for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, said she represents “the most climate vulnerable people on Earth.”
Her tiny country has increased its emissions-cut proposals in a way that would limit warming to that tight goal of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit since preindustrial times.
Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg said the U.S. should formulate a policy.
President Hilda Heine called the Marshall Islands “the most climate vulnerable.”
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi chided President Trump, but not by name.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks during the Climate Action Summit.