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As Global Climate Change Worsens, UN Attempts to Generate Action in New York

The World Meteorological Organization’s 2018 climate report demonstrates more cause for concern, but are UN leaders connecting with the public?

The UN Headquarters in New York on Saturday, March 30, for Earth Hour. The United Nations participates in Earth Hour, a global lights-off event coordinated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other volunteer organizations. Started as a symbolic lights-out event in Sydney in 2007, Earth Hour is one of the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, inspiring millions of people to take action for our planet. (UN Photo Evan Schneider)

During a press conference at the United Nations Headquarters, Secretary General António Guterres, along with President of the UN General Assembly Maria Fernanda Espinosa and WMO SG Petteri Taalas, urge world leaders to skip the speeches and present plans for the September 2019 Climate Action Summit in light of new findings on the health of our planet. But the briefing room is half empty.

According to the report Statement on the State of Global Climate in 2018, recently released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the average global temperature is only getting higher, the polar ice caps are continuing to rapidly disappear, and extreme weather is affecting more people (62 million people worldwide, to be exact). To put it bluntly, President of the UN General Assembly María Fernanda Espinosa said, “[This] is really not good news.”

March 28, 2019: Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), speaks at the press briefing to launch the WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate 2018 and an update on Extreme Weather in 2019. At right is Secretary-General António Guterres and in the centre is María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the seventy-third session of the General Assembly.
(UN Photo Mark Garten)

In a press briefing conducted by Espinosa, Secretary-General of the WMO Petteri Taalas, and Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres, it was revealed that the measures currently being taken to tackle the climate change question are not enough to stave off further pernicious effects around the world. “Climate change is moving faster than our efforts to address it,” Guterres said. Which is why, at the Climate Action Summit this September, Guterres is insisting that world leaders who attend should, “come with a plan” and not simply another opinion piece to share.

He also stressed that the steps that we (as in humankind) take towards sustainable solutions will be good for economies everywhere, so there is really no excuse anymore for a city or country to be dragging its feet in adapting environmentally-friendly infrastructure changes. Perhaps this messaging should be emphasized even more than it already has been—though this panel kept calm in delivering the report to the room, they still warned that we all need to make major moves in order to ensure a good quality of life for the future. For Guterres, part of “this means ending subsidies for fossil fuels and high-emitting, unsustainable agriculture, and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices.”

Espinosa opened her remarks on the matter with the fact that there was a 1.6% growth in CO2 emissions in 2017 that jumped to a 2.7% growth in 2018. It should, what with all of our current knowledge of climate change, be heading in the opposite direction. And it shouldn’t take catastrophic events like Cyclone Idai—which has affected around 1.5 million people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi—to push nations to adopt new strategies in order to secure the health and safety of millions.

Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization. (UN Photo, Mark Garten)

Of course, the dangers presented by climate change aren’t limited to just natural disasters. Excessive heat is going to be a problem for the day-to-day lives of living things as well. We will see food security issues and population displacements. For all these factors, and more, Guterres, Espinosa and Taalas are exhorting world leaders to make more radical changes in climate and sustainability solutions. We’re really getting down to the wire. They explained we’re running out of time to reach the stated goals of the Paris Agreement—and we’re going to have to do even more on top of that.

Despite the gravity of the situation that was being reported on at the press briefing, the room was half empty. This should be a concern to everyone, and it may be a subtle indication of why progress on finding and implementing a solution to climate change is moving so slowly.  It’s not a good sign that such a high-level panel met at the UN and yet there were so many available seats in the audience. The WMO report is huge news about phenomena that will affect millions more people, and sooner than our worst predictions had led us to believe.  The situation is quickly becoming dire. Those who attended the briefing heard Espinosa’s and Guterres’ words, but did they sink in? Are all these facts and statistics reaching the audience that they need to reach? The empty seats would lead us to doubt it.

Earth Hour: UN Secretary-General António Guterres Message (March 30th 2019, at 8:30 p.m. local time)

“This Earth Hour comes with a great sense of urgency. We can see the worsening impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean pollution, soil degradation and water scarcity. The good news is: there are solutions. It is still possible to limit climate change, protect our planet and safeguard our future. Technology is on our side. I am convening a Climate Action Summit in September. And I am telling global leaders to bring concrete plans. Earth Hour is an opportunity to show support for ambitious climate action, by turning off your lights this Saturday, March 30th, at 8:30 p.m. local time. Together, let’s build a cleaner, safer and greener future for everyone.” (UN Secretary-General António Guterres)

Below, the video with his message.

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