Right now, world leaders have gathered in New York for the annual General Assembly of the United Nations. But the main focus will instead be on a parallel emergency summit called by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for urgent action on climate change. Global warming, more than any other topic that has reached the floor of the General Assembly over the past seven decades, is an issue that affects all of us living on this planet, and each and every nation that is part of this planet we share.
The data are undeniable. Last year was 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than 2017 — and the years since 2015 have been the warmest yet on record. Ironically, it was in 2015 that most nations of the world (barring the US and Syria) pledged themselves to the Paris climate accords. The world leaders agreed to control carbon emissions and cut greenhouse gases in an effort to prevent the global climate from warming by more than 2C by 2030.
Clearly, the latest data provides empirical evidence those limits are not high enough, while more severe weather events offer sufficient anecdotal evidence that more needs to be done more quickly than planned.
The climate summit in New York will hopefully convince world leaders that limits must be at least tripled and ramped up to be in place by 2025 to prevent irreparable damage to the Earth. Environmentalists have been campaigning on the need to cut global emissions for more than three decades but it is only now that their message is hitting home — with bigger and stronger hurricanes and cyclones, rising seas, fiercer forest fires, hotter summers, harsher winters, more severe floods, droughts and poor air quality in our cities.
Sadly, there are those who still deny all of the evidence that this planet is warming and changing to the detriment of all. They still argue that this warming cycle is a natural cycle, that developing nations need to deal with the issue, that they have the right to burn coal or drive vehicles with dirtier engines, that the developed nations should not pay for Asia’s cooking fires.
The sad truth is that we do not have time to argue or debate anymore. Decades have been spent listening to those on both sides of the arguments. The danger is that in the decades to come, we will be damned for merely talking.