After months of Secretary-General Guterres talking the talk, but not walking the walk when it comes to climate action, this week’s series of events culminating in Greta Thunberg’s arrival have finally allowed for climate change to hold the “spotlight.”
The week started off on Monday, August 26th with the Secretary-General’s speech on the “climate emergency” at the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France. He called for “more ambition” from the other leaders as 2019 proves to be the fifth consecutive year as the hottest year on record causing ice caps to melt at dramatic speed and fires to continue to ravage the world – like the ones in the Amazon currently ongoing. The UN Chief emphasized that it takes not only more ambition, but the “political will” of the G7 countries’ leaders to “follow what is today the mobilization of youth and many entities.”
Then the following day on Tuesday, August 27th, there was a press conference held at UN Headquarters in NYC by Luis Alfonso de Alba, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit. He spoke about the goals and outlined the agenda for the Climate Summit scheduled to take place at UN Headquarters in NYC in the week of September 23rd. The Special Envoy emphasized the same point that the Secretary-General made at the G7 Summit, that leaders coming to NY need to be “willing to demonstrate the political will” and they needed to come with “concrete proposals.” De Alba also touched on the Youth Summit that is scheduled for the weekend before the Climate Summit on September 21st, and their hopes of hearing from, and working with the youth.
Greta Thunberg made landfall Wednesday, August 28th, in Manhattan’s North Cove Harbor. The 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist decided to undertake the daring voyage after choosing to attend the Climate Summit but refusing to do so by plane. Instead she decided to sail a 60-ft racing yacht, named the Malizia II, with her father, a two-man crew, and a camera person. The yacht was a zero-carbon emission alternative utilizing solar panels and underwater turbines that generate electric power. To show its support of the young activist, the UN sent a flotilla of 17 sailboats, each representing one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The boats received Thunberg at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and accompanied Thunberg to her final destination at the North Cove Harbor.
According to the UN News, upon disembarking, Thunberg addressed the press, saying, “I would love not to have to do this and just go to school, but…I want to make the difference.” She placed the blame on the older generation, stating that they “should not be saying to us ‘be a normal’ kid, [because] we are just trying to clean up after them.” The young activist initiated her war on climate change last year by launching a one-girl ‘school strike’ at 15-years-old, standing by her herself in front of the Swedish Parliament calling for climate action. Students around the world have taken up the young Swedish student’s torch, in hopes of initiating climate action within their own communities.
And so it has, right in the UN’s own backyard. In the wake of the young activist’s incredibly inspiring undertaking, activists gathered in the streets of NY across from the UN headquarters to protest climate change. According to The Guardian, one of the leading protesters was Alexandria Villaseñor, 14, who has been protesting every Friday outside the UN since December. She told reporters that, “Greta being here will really galvanize students just because of how much of an inspiration she is. Everyone who’s been striking on Friday was really empowered by Greta and the action she was taking.”
As a result, Thunberg and two other teenagers were invited into the UN to receive a special preview of the UN General Assembly Hall. They were also greeted by UN General Assembly President, María Fernanda Espinosa, who tweeted, “Welcome, Greta Thunberg and climate activists to the UN in New York. Your determination for climate action has shaken the world and we join you in holding leaders accountable. ‘Science, not Silence” #ClimateActionNow.” Secretary-General Guterres also took to Twitter to express his own sentiments on the protests Thunberg had inspired in NY, stating, “I’m far from New York, but I’m happy to know that young people came to the UN once again to express their commitment in the fight against climate change. I encourage them to keep pushing for stronger #Climate Action.”
The UN Secretary-General took some action of his own in a climate session at the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAF) held in Yokohama, Japan on Thursday, August 29th. According to UN News, the UN Chief lamented the disasters rampaging across the world, including the cyclone streak in Mozambique, the floods in Japan, and the wildfires in the Amazon, stating that, “Decades of sustainable development gains can be wiped out overnight.” Therefore, the Secretary-General has finally become proactive regarding the fires in the Amazon, stating that, “We have been in contact with the countries to see whether, during the high-level session of the General Assembly, there would be a meeting devoted to the mobilization of support to the Amazon.”
This week has certainly been climate action-packed with events focused on addressing climate change and inspiring efforts from all levels of society and across the world. One can only hope that with all of this movement leading up to the 2019 Climate Summit, there will be some promising responses from world leaders to effect change.