UNITED NATIONS, Sept 23 (Reuters) – Days after millions of young people took to the streets worldwide to demand emergency action on climate change, leaders gathered at the United Nations on Monday to try to inject fresh momentum into stalling efforts to curb carbon emissions.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned governments that they would have to offer action plans to qualify to speak at the summit, which is aimed at boosting the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat global warming.
“Millions around the world saying clearly, not only that they want change, not only that decision-makers must change – but they want them to be accountable,” Guterres said at a separate youth climate summit he hosted on Saturday.
World leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were due to address the one-day gathering, alongside companies working to promote renewable energy.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro were not going to attend, officials said.
In an attempt to motivate leaders entering the U.N. headquarters in New York, calls for action from young people were projected onto the side of the main building.
“Everything needs to change and it has to start today,” read one of the projected messages by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist who inspired a global climate strike last Friday. Thunberg was scheduled to address the opening of the summit.
With climate impacts such as extreme weather, thawing permafrost and sea-level rise unfolding much faster than expected, scientists say the urgency of the crisis has intensified since the Paris accord was agreed.
The agreement will enter a crucial implementation phase next year after another round of negotiations in Chile in December. Pledges made so far under the agreement are nowhere near enough to avert catastrophic warming, scientists say, and last year carbon emissions hit a record high.
Over the past year, Guterres has called for no new coal plants to be built after 2020, urged a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies and asked countries to map out how to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
While some countries have made progress, some of the biggest emitting countries remain far behind, even as wildfires, heat waves and record temperatures have provided glimpses of the devastation that could lie in store in a warmer world.
In a measure of the gap between government action and the ever-louder alarms sounded by climate scientists, the United Nations Development Programme said that 14 nations representing a quarter of global emissions have signalled that they do not intend to revise current climate plans by 2020.
Young people attending the youth climate summit were angry that decades of climate negotiations had failed to stave off climate impacts from accelerating species extinctions to superstorms, shrinking glaciers and failed harvests.
“They’ve been having these talks for 25 years and nothing changes,” said Gavi Reiter, a 24-year old climate activist with SustainUS.
Fijian climate change action advocate Komal Kumar, whose low-lying country has already grappled with the worst impacts of climate change, said the time for empty rhetoric had ended.
“We demand action. Stop wasting time. Stop hindering the work [towards a sustainable future] for short term profits,” she said.
Reporting by Matthew Green and Valerie Volcovici; editing by Grant McCool for REUTERS