President Trump made an unexpected appearance at Monday’s U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City, dropping in for a session in the United Nations General Assembly and surprising many of the attendees before heading off to meetings with other world leaders.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, the summit’s host, described Trump’s unannounced attendance as a “step forward,” while Michael Bloomberg, who sat on a panel about achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, also thanked Trump for showing up.
“Hopefully our conversations here today will be helpful to you as you make climate policy,” Bloomberg said, drawing applause and laughter from the guests in the hall.
Trump has described climate change as a “hoax,” and, in 2017, pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement that seeks to lower carbon emissions.
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.
After departing the summit, Trump told reporters he is “a big believer in clean air and clean water, and all countries should get together and do that, and they should do it for themselves.”
Trump’s appearance at the summit was overshadowed by that of Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who scolded world leaders for failing to take action to curb carbon emissions and prevent what scientists see as an existential threat to life on Earth.
“This is all wrong,” Thunberg said in a blistering speech. “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean, yet you come to us young people for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
“You say you hear us and understand the urgency, but no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that,” she added. “Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.”
The teenager was among 16 children to file a legal complaint with the United Nations on Monday, accusing five countries — France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey — of not doing enough to combat climate change.
Last week, she testified on Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to “listen to the scientists” who say climate change is real and that humans are responsible — conclusions that Trump has resisted.
Ahead of the summit, leading climate scientists issued a report, United in Science, stating “that accelerating climate impacts from melting ice caps to sea-level rise and extreme weather were to blame for the record as the global average temperature increased by 1.1°C above pre-industrial (1850-1900) times.” Their findings amplified last year’s U.N. report, warning that the world has until 2030 to cut carbon pollution to avoid the worst effects of global warming of 1.5°C, such as rising ocean levels, devastating storms. Some consequences are already being felt.
The summit, which kicked off with an immersive experience produced by RYOT, a Verizon Media company, “to emphasize the immediacy of fighting climate change.” It featured about 60 heads of state, diplomats and business leaders who spoke about their efforts to reduce emissions to essentially zero by 2050. (Verizon Media is also the parent company of Yahoo News.)
Guterres declared in his opening remarks that the “ticket to entry” for the summit was not “a beautiful speech, but concrete action.”
“This is not a climate talk summit,” he said. “We have had enough talk. This is not a climate negotiation summit. You don’t negotiate with nature. This is a climate action summit.”
Speakers touted the ways in which their countries, companies and citizens have committed to cutting emissions by 45 percent and achieve carbon neutrality. They called for international collaboration as well as increased efforts from developed countries, divestment in oil and gas production, promotion of green economies, and a fulfillment 2016 Paris Accord commitments pledged by 195 nations. (Turkey, Iran and Iraq are among the countries who have not yet ratified the agreement.)
In step with calls for bold, ambitious actions to fight climate change, Russia, in a major announcement, confirmed that its parliament has passed the ratification of the Paris Agreement. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose remarks Trump stayed to hear on Monday, pledged to double her country's climate protection funding and phase out coal power within a decade. Greece also promised to close down all of its coal plants by 2028.
Most leaders cited young people who, like Thunberg, have demanded they act to protect their future, as a key motivation behind their plans.
“Action, action action. We cannot leave our young people to spend all of their Fridays protesting,” urged France’s president Emmanuel Macron, referring to last week’s global youth climate strike.
“The young people of the world demand climate justice, as do we,” said Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who spoke passionately on behalf of developing countries that have a small carbon footprint yet stand most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis.
“We hear you, Greta Thunberg,” said Indonesia’s Vice President M. Jusuf Kalla. “We are in a climate emergency.”
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