Though the climate strike and the U.N. climate summit is over, activists urge on political action.
On Friday, Sept. 20, an estimated 4 million people took to the streets in over 163 countries to demand action on the climate crisis. On Monday, Sept. 23, more than 60 world leaders presented their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their countries.
The climate strike was certainly not the first of its kind, as youth climate strikes have been taking place every Friday for the past year. The original “Fridays for Future” strike took place on a Friday in August 2018 and consisted of Greta Thunberg, a then 15-year-old Swedish student, sitting outside the Swedish Parliament. Since then, Thunberg has become a figurehead for the youth environmental movement, and the school strikes have grown dramatically, with the Sept. 20 strike marking the largest yet.
With the U.N. summit on climate change scheduled for the Monday after the Sept. 20 strike, protesters exhibited a heightened sense of importance and urgency for their movement. Signs waving, they challenged leaders to match their vigor.
While 65 countries and major sub-national economies pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, some of the largest promises came from the smallest and least-developed countries with relatively low emissions, according to un.org.
Notable statements from major countries included France announcing that it will not enter into trade agreements with any countries that have policies in violation of the Paris Agreement, Germany committing to carbon neutrality by 2050, China pledging to cut emissions by 12 billion tons annually and the Russian Federation planning to enter the Paris Agreement, bringing the total number of countries in the agreement to 187.
The U.S. made no announcements or plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the summit. President Trump appeared briefly, but did not speak. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. stands as the country with the second-highest carbon dioxide emissions, between China (number one) and India.
In addition to leading strikes since she arrived in the U.S., Thunberg also testified in front of Congress. When a representative asked about the viewpoint of some Americans that the U.S. should not work to reduce carbon emissions since China proves worse than the U.S. in this regard, Thunberg said “that argument is being used against you” and stated that people in her small country of Sweden say the same thing about the U.S. as people in the U.S. say about China.
President Trump has previously called for the U.S. to leave the Paris Agreement. The 2015 agreement holds countries to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees celsius above the pre-industrial era. However, a recent report from the U.N. found that the world is on track to warm by 3.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century and that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be at least tripled in order to achieve the goals set forth by the Paris Agreement. Additionally, an October 2018 report by the IPCC states that warming needs to remain at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to avoid the most devastating effects of the climate crisis.
Prior to the summit, Secretary General António Guterres said he told leaders “don’t come to the summit with beautiful speeches” and asked them to instead bring “concrete plans.”
Likewise, Thunberg, who spoke at the summit, mentioned the “empty words” of politicians. She continued to tell the leaders that they are failing younger generations, who “are starting to understand your betrayal.” This understanding is exhibited in these strikes, as young people have and will continue to take to the streets until they feel their concerns have been not only taken into consideration but also acted upon by their politicians.
Friday, Sept. 27, four days after the summit, further evidenced the rallying power behind this movement to demand politicians act on the climate crisis. An estimated 7 million people went on strike, breaking the previous week’s record for the largest climate demonstration. The summit may be finished now, but they’re not. As Thunberg wrote in her Instagram post announcing the outcome of the event, “this is just the beginning.”