By J Nastranis
NEW YORK (IDN) – “My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres in an opinion piece for The Guardian, in the wake of unprecedented March 15 demonstrations by schoolchildren across the world against climate change inaction.
The youth-led School Strike for Climate movement Fridays for Future held the first global climate demonstration in history spanning over more than 100 countries from Australia to America embracing the developing nations of India and Uganda and the Philippines and Nepal – countries acutely impacted by climate change.
They were inspired by the tireless campaigning of 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. “There is no grey area when it comes to survival,” she and Anna Taylor in the UK, Luisa Neubauer in Germany, Kyra Gantois, Anuna De Wever and Adélaïde Charlier in Belgium, Holly Gillibrand in Scotland, and Alexandria Villasenor in USA, wrote in a joint article published March 15 by The Guardian.
“That’s why young people are striking in every corner of the globe, and it’s why we are asking that older people join us on the streets too. When our house is burning we cannot just leave it to the children to pour water on the flames – we need the grownups to take responsibility for sparking the blaze in the first place. So for once, we’re asking grownups to follow our lead: we can’t wait any longer. This movement had to happen. And now, you adults have a choice,” the young climate activists add.
Since August 2018, tens of thousands of young people have taken part in strikes across Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Canada and Australia. The movement continues to grow, with fresh protests occurring in the UK and elsewhere.
“Today’s young people are the first generation to have lived their entire lives under the threat of catastrophic climate change. They’re now positioned as future leaders, forced to take urgent action on an issue which older generations have lacked the political will, organisation and authority to address,” write David Rousell and Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles in The Conversation.
“These schoolchildren have grasped something that seems to elude many of their elders,” says the UN Chief, adding that “we are in a race for our lives, and we are losing. The window of opportunity is closing; we no longer have the luxury of time, and climate delay is almost as dangerous as climate denial.”
The more he witnessed the “commitment and activism” of young people who were fed up with the pace of the international response to global warming, “the more confident I am that we will win. Together, with your help and thanks to your efforts, we can and must beat this threat and create a cleaner, safer, greener world for everyone,” says Guterres in a direct message to the youth activists.
Assuring that he understands the young people’s fears, the UN Chief says, global emissions are reaching record levels, and continuing to rise, adding that concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is the highest it has been in 3 million years.
“The last four years were the four hottest on record, and winter temperatures in the Arctic have risen by 3°C since 1990,” he adds, noting also rising sea levels, the death of coral reefs, and a growing threat to human health worldwide, as made clear in the UN’s Global Environmental Outlook, published in time for the Fourth United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, from March 11 to 15, 2019.
The historic 2015 Paris Agreement signed by more than 190 countries to keep global emissions well below 2°C, “itself is meaningless without ambitious action,” says the UN Chief.
“That is why I am bringing world leaders together at a Climate Action Summit later this year. I am calling on all leaders to come to New York in September with concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero by 2050.”
Guterres refers to the latest analysis which shows that if we act now, we can reduce carbon emissions within 12 years and limit global warming to 1.5°. “But if we continue along our current path, the consequences are impossible to predict.”
“Momentum is building,” he adds, “people are listening and there is a new determination to unleash the promise of the Paris Agreement. The Climate Summit must be the starting point to build the future we need.”
Even if the world were to cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, winter temperatures in the Arctic would rise 3-5°C by 2050 and 5-9°C by 2080, devastating the region and unleashing sea level rises worldwide, finds a new report by UN Environment published on third day of the UN Environment Assembly on March 13.
Meanwhile, rapidly thawing permafrost could even accelerate climate change further and derail efforts to meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to 2°C, warns Global Linkages – A graphic look at the changing Arctic.
Other environmental pressures on the Arctic identified by the paper include ocean acidification and plastic pollution. “What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” said Joyce Msuya, UN Environment’s Acting Executive Director. “We have the science; now more urgent climate action is needed to steer away from tipping points that could be even worse for our planet than we first thought.”
Accentuating the need for immediate action, the most comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment completed by the UN in the last five years, released at the UN Environment Assembly on March 13, warns that damage to the planet is so dire that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless urgent action is taken.
The report, which was produced by 250 scientists and experts from more than 70 countries, says that either we drastically scale up environmental protections, or cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century. It also warns that pollutants in our freshwater systems will see anti-microbial resistance become a major cause of death by 2050 and endocrine disruptors impact male and female fertility, as well as child neurodevelopment.
But the report highlights the fact that the world has the science, technology and finance it needs to move towards a more sustainable development pathway, although sufficient support is still missing from the public, business and political leaders who are clinging to outdated production and development models.
Another report released at the UN Environment Assembly on March 12 states that rapid growth in extraction of materials is the chief culprit in climate change and biodiversity loss – a challenge that will only worsen unless the world urgently undertakes a systemic reform of resource use.
Global Resources Outlook 2019, prepared by the International Resource Panel, examines the trends in natural resources and their corresponding consumption patterns since the 1970s to support policymakers in strategic decision-making and transitioning to a sustainable economy.
Over the past five decades, the population has doubled and global domestic product has increased four times. The report finds that, in the same period, annual global extraction of materials grew from 27 billion tonnes to 92 billion tonnes (by 2017). This will double again by 2060 on current trends.
According to the report, “the extraction and processing of materials, fuels and food make up about half of total global greenhouse gas emissions and more than 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress”. By 2010, land-use changes had caused a loss of global species of approximately 11 per cent.
“The Global Resources Outlook shows that we are ploughing through this planet’s finite resources as if there is no tomorrow, causing climate change and biodiversity loss along the way,” said UN Environment’s Msuya. “Frankly, there will be no tomorrow for many people unless we stop,” she warned.
Warnings such as these underline the importance of the Fridays for Future global climate movement and what Greta Thunberg and other students have emphasised in their article for The Guardian: “If those in power today don’t act, it will be our generation who will live through their failure. Those who are under 20 now could be around to see 2080, and face the prospect of a world that has warmed by up to 4C. The effects of such warming would be utterly devastating. Rivers would flood, storms would wreak havoc on coastal communities and coral reefs would be eliminated. Melting polar ice caps would lead to dramatically higher sea levels, flooding coastal areas. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 March 2019]
Photo: Youth attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. Credit: UNFCCC
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