The UN climate summit was a proper big diplomatic event, a long list of presidents and prime ministers along with the likes of Bill Gates, chief execs of various multinationals, and a message from the Pope. But it’s Greta Thunberg’s furious challenge to the leaders, and to all adults really, that I’ll remember longest. I love it when God uses the weak to shame the strong, and this 16 year old girl certainly did that.
So we got a lot of words. It’s good for world leaders to say how damaging and urgent climate change is, that’s part of their job, and some of it was very powerful, specially from small island states whose existence is under threat. Not everyone spoke, because Secretary-General Guterres only gave speaking slots to governments taking new action - there was no space for Brazil, Australia, Russia, or the US, for example.
We got some money. That was very encouraging, there’s a huge need for richer countries to transfer money to poorer countries to cope with the damage of climate change and also to find clean ways to develop - and it’s the right thing to do as historically, it’s the richer countries who’ve caused the problem. But they’ve often been reluctant to promise it or to deliver when they do promise. So it was good to have several countries doubling their funding to the Green Climate Fund, and a promise from the UK for £11.5 billion over the next 5 years, including for clean cooking and off-grid renewables, as we’ve been calling for.
And we got some action. 70 countries said they’d revise their national plans to make bigger cuts to their emissions. More than that said they’d cut their emissions to zero by 2050. This is great, but it’s not nearly enough, because on the whole the countries going further are the smaller ones, and the ones reluctant to are the big emitters. Even if everyone keeps all their promises so far, the world’s emissions will keep on rising, and we urgently need them to peak and start falling.
So I’m left feeling hugely encouraged by the global campaign, with over 4 million people on the streets just on the Friday before the summit, and by our prayers too. I’m slightly encouraged by the summit - we’re closer to putting the brakes on climate change than we were. But overall I’m left far more keenly aware that we’re still a long way from where we need to be; so this year’s UN COP talks in Chile in December will be important, and next year’s in Scotland will be crucial, as that’s the time each nation puts in their climate plan.
We’ll be there, and we need to be.