On Sept. 23, tears lined 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s eyes as she delivered an impassioned speech at the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit in New York City.
“We are at the beginning of a mass extinction,” cried Thunberg as the crowd roared in agreement. “And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”
Thunberg spearheaded the global Fridays for Future movement, she set sail on a two-week voyage on a zero-emissions boat across the Atlantic and played a fundamental role in the worldwide youth climate strike, which included over 7.6 million participants.
Despite her efforts, many feel as though the efforts of world leaders continue to pale greatly in comparison.
“I was disappointed to see all of the enthusiastic applause and support from the very people that [Thunberg] was calling out for their betrayal of our generation in her speech,” said UMKC Student Environmental President Dawson Sims. “I worry that her message will be co-opted by the very people she is targeting with her activism.”
Sims cites Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as an example. Although Trudeau attended the Montreal Climate Strike and declared a climate emergency, he still approved a major pipeline project earlier this year.
Though the gathering hoped to usher in bold, resolute and innovative action to curb the catastrophic effects of climate change, it appears that more was said, but less was done.
As part of the Paris Climate Accord in 2015, every country that signed on to the agreement is required to build on to its previous commitment by 2020. Many of these nations are struggling to meet the targets established in 2015, and greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise. Of the 195 nations included in the treaty, only 65 have introduced plans that aim to reduce carbon emissions and transition toward clean energy sources.
Climate scientists say these commitments are not enough to meet the global temperature reduction goal. With complete silence from the United States and vague, unambitious plans from China and India, the three largest carbon emitters in the world have left many environmental activists incredibly disappointed.
Bella Vadovicky, president of the UMKC College Democrats, found the conference to be bittersweet.
“I feel that as a whole, there was a lack of substantive plans on how to limit carbon emissions,” said Vadovicky. “In order to address the current environmental crisis, we, as a country and as a planet, need to take large steps towards net-zero carbon emissions.”
However, she remains optimistic and is glad to see world leaders taking advantage of opportunities to unite and recognize the severity of the climate crisis.
Even though many environmentalists hoped for more action from major carbon-emitting countries, the summit still resulted in contributions many can look forward to.
Over $7 billion was donated to the Green Climate Fund, an organization that assists developing countries in reducing their carbon emissions, and a multitude of corporations pledged to divest from fossil fuel and carbon-intensive industries. The Gates Foundation also promised a donation of $790 million to help small-scale, local farmers adapt to environmental challenges. Sixteen countries have also announced intentions of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Sims looks forward to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Santiago, Chile, this December.
“For the most part, this meeting was a sort of warm-up,” said Sims. “I am hopeful that a more ambitious and enforceable agreement will emerge from COP 25 [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change].”