All eyes were on activist Greta Thunberg when she bluntly told world leaders: “You are failing us.”
But what mattered most at Monday's U.N. climate summit was what China, India and the U.S. actually said — and what the three biggest emitters of greenhouse gases did not say.
Countries "once again stopped short of committing to the sort of far-reaching new goals scientists say are needed to rein in emissions," as The Post's Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin report from the summit.
“Greta Thunberg laid down a clear line in the sand, separating those countries and leaders who are united behind the science from those who continue to place the profits of fossil fuel polluters above the safety of their citizens,” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “Sadly, most leaders from the world’s largest emitting countries failed this litmus test, dodging their responsibility to step up action as is essential to address the climate emergency we now face.”
Altogether, the top three emitters account for nearly half of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Resources Institute. Their national policies are what will have the biggest impact on whether the world can hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which is the goal of the 2015 Paris agreement.
The aim of the Paris accord was for nations to ratchet up their emissions cuts over time. But it relied on voluntary pledges. The Obama administration, which brokered the agreement in 2015, hoped that over time the United States could wield its soft power to press other nations to cut emissions.
President Trump's election upended that plan. And this week's climate summit brought into stark relief how countries are still grappling with the fallout of Trump's promise to withdraw from the climate accord:
China: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi took a veiled swing at Trump. He sought to reassure other countries that the promised U.S. withdrawal won't affect China's goals under the international accord.
- What he said: “China will faithfully fulfill its obligations … The withdrawal of certain parties will not shake the international community,” per the New York Times.
- What it means: The rub here is China, the world's top emitter, made no new promises to further cut emissions as worries there grow about its slowing economy. And China's original commitment for its emissions to peak no later than 2030 is not enough to begin with. Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of scientists that compares global climate pledges, has rated China's goal as “highly insufficient” for keeping warming below 2 degrees.
India: Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed to more than doubling India's renewable energy capacity by 2030.
- What he said: “India today has come not just to talk about the seriousness of this issue, but to present a practical approach and a road map. We believe an ounce of practice is worth more than a tonne of preaching,” per the Indian newspaper the Hindu.
- What it means: India's original Paris goals are compatible with keeping warming under 2 degrees, according to Climate Action Tracker. Still, Modi made no promise to cut its use of coal-fired power generation as some hoped. India is looking to build out all the electricity generation it can as it tries to lift millions out of poverty.
United States: After initially deciding to forgo the climate summit, Trump made a surprise, 14-minute appearance, listening to Modi's and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's remarks, according to The Post’s Seung Min Kim and Anne Gearan.
- What he said: “I believe in clean air and clean water, very simple,” Trump said when asked why he decided to participate. “We have the cleanest air; we have the cleanest water.”
- What it means: The Trump administration's efforts to walk back regulations on coal plants and automobiles means the United States is set to fall far short of what it needs to do to meet the Paris temperature goal. Other than those off-the-cuff remarks, the United States was virtually invisible during the day.
Read more about the summit here:
— “If you choose to fail us, we will never forgive you”: Thunberg reminded world leaders at the summit that “the eyes of all future generations” were on them. The teenager made no attempt to hide her emotions and anger as she warned that her generation would bear the brunt of the climate catastrophe if the world did not act fast.
- Key quote: “You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you?,” she said. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”
- After her remarks: Thunberg and 15 other youths filed a complaint with the U.N. alleging “five of the world's major economies have violated their human rights by not taking adequate action to stop the unfolding climate crisis,” CNN reports. “The petition names five countries — Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey — which they say have failed to uphold their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a 30-year-old human rights treaty which is the most widely ratified in history.”
- Some leaders appeared to respond quickly: French President Emmanuel Macron told fellow leaders he’s “seen the emotion this morning. We cannot let our youth spend every Friday demonstrating for the climate and simply answer, ‘Everything is fine, we are doing everything right.' ” German Chancellor Angela Merkel posted a photo of a meeting with the activist.
Captured by @Reuters Andrew Hofstetter: Activist @GretaThunberg watches Trump arrive at the #UNGA. Thunberg condemned world leaders for failing to take strong measures to combat climate change: ‘You have stolen my dreams’ https://t.co/e9VfO9KJFo pic.twitter.com/rTtzzu8jis— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) September 23, 2019
- An icy stare: “But it was Thunberg’s encounter with another world leader that garnered the most attention,” The Post’s Kayla Epstein and Eilperin write. “News cameras captured a video clip of Thunberg delivering an icy stare as President Trump walked by, her mouth set in a rigid frown as he approached the assembled media.”
- Oil companies’ counterprogramming: Thirteen of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies met at a forum in New York – while world leaders gathered at the UN – to announce climate initiatives amid criticism from activists and investors over the industry’s climate impact. “The companies promised a program to invest in technologies to scrub carbon dioxide from the air, although big questions remain about scaling up that technology,” the New York Times reports. “They also promised to cut down on leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from wells and pipes, and reaffirmed support of a tax on the burning of oil, gas and coal.” Former United Nations climate chief Christina Figueres told the company leaders gathered that they could “either put a nail in the coffin of global efforts, or be the industry to deliver the solution.”
Meanwhile, climate protesters flooded Washington's streets: Demonstrators blocked major streets during Washington's morning commute to draw attention to the climate crisis. There were 15 locations blocked at various times, according to authorities, from Capitol Hill to downtown Washington, The Post’s Justin Wm. Moyer, Rebecca Tan and Dana Hedgpeth report.
- Who was demonstrating? A coalition of advocacy organizations called Shut Down DC called on “climate rebels” to help bring “the whole city to a gridlocked standstill.”
- Who were the protesters' targets? “Sites were chosen for traffic volume and also their proximity to the offices of ‘climate criminals,’ organizers said, such as petroleum companies or lobbyists for the oil and gas industry,” The Post team writes. “ … Kaela Bamberger, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Shut Down D.C., said the protest is an escalation in tactics to draw attention to a warming planet.”
- What protesters told us: A 22-year-old protester named George told The Post he’s “doing this so I can look my kids in the eye one day.” Nene Taylor, an organizer with Black Lives Matter, which is part of the coalition, told The Post the demonstrations were also meant to send a message to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) about how the issues affecting the city’s black communities are worsened by climate change.
— Sunrise’s first Democratic primary challenge endorsement: The Sunrise Movement has endorsed Jessica Cisneros, who is running to unseat an eight-term Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.). The youth-led climate organization pointed to Cuellar’s stance against the Green New Deal and that he has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the oil and gas industry. “Even though he calls himself a Democrat, he rakes in campaign contributions from fossil fuel CEOs and Wall Street and joins with Trump to do their bidding in Congress,” the group's executive director, Varshini Prakash, said in a statement. “Young people like Jessica Cisneros have seen the impacts of these failed policies for our entire lives.”
— CDC awards funds to study PFAS impacts at several sites: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry announced $7 million will be awarded to institutions for a multisite study on the health impacts of PFAS-contaminated drinking water. The study was authorized by the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2018 and 2019, according to a news release. Various institutions will get a $1 million award to look at PFAS exposures in El Paso County, Colo.; Cooper Township, Mich. and North Kent County, Mich.; Montgomery and Bucks Counties, Pa.; Gloucester County, N.J.; Hyannis, Mass. and Ayer, Mass.; Hoosick Falls, N.Y. and Newburgh, N.Y.; and communities near the University of California at Irvine Medical Center.
— Brown’s new climate gig: Former California governor Jerry Brown (D) told Bloomberg News the new climate think tank he’s launching with China’s chief climate official at the University of California at Berkeley is especially critical amid the administration’s trade war with China. “Trump is offering resistance to absolutely imperative climate actions,” Brown said in an interview. “This is an important collaboration, and it’s extra important because of the growing animosity at almost every level in the America-China relationship.”
— Trump vs. California: Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler sent a letter to the California Air Resources Board warning that the state had the “worst air quality in the United States” and “failed to carry out its most basic tasks,” under federal law. The letter threatened sanctions against the state, including federal highway funding cuts, over its “failure” to submit implementation plans required under the Clean Air Act, the Sacramento Bee reports. “The administration will give California until October 10 to rescind their ‘incomplete’ plans and resubmit new reports addressing 82 municipalities facing noncompliance,” per the report.
- The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies holds a markup of an appropriations bill for the Interior Department, EPA and related agencies.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearing on fossil fuel development.
- The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds hearings to examine fishery failures and improving disaster declaration and relief process on Wednesday.
- The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry holds a hearing on the National Forest System on Thursday.
- The House Science, Space and Technology Committee holds a hearing on forecasting and communicating extreme weather in a changing climate on Thursday.
— You can thank a volcano for the purple tinge you’ve been seeing in sunsets: The purple hue that has been showing up in sunsets this summer may be because of Raikoke. The Russian volcano that erupted in June injected sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, The Post’s Matthew Cappucci writes. “These sulfuric aerosols are known to scatter blue light. Sunsets are already red, so when you mix the two colors, you get purple.”