The largest climate protests in history concluded on Friday with more than a million demonstrators taking part, throwing down the gauntlet ahead of the UN climate summit on Monday.
As world leaders descend on New York for the UN General Assembly, more than 60 will make new climate announcements on Monday, however global tensions including the trade war and conflict in the Middle East will also dominate the meeting.
“We are witnessing simultaneously global warming, and global political warming, and the two things are combined,” António Guterres, UN secretary-general, said. “And sometimes they interact with each other,” he added, pointing out how climate change can exacerbate natural disasters and human conflict.
On Friday millions of climate protesters around the world — even in Antarctica — called on governments to take more urgent actions and reduce emissions.
“We are not just some young people skipping school or some adults not going to work — we are a wave of change,” said Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who inspired the protest movement, addressing the protesters in New York.
“If you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us then we have some very bad news for you, because this is only the beginning. Change is coming whether they like it or not.”
The UN climate summit is the culmination of more than a year of lobbying by Mr Guterres, who has made climate change his signature issue.
However, Mr Guterres on Friday also tried to damp down expectations about what specific new climate pledges will be made.
“I don’t expect that the announcements made now will be an already detailed and complete description — that will be in 2020,” he said. “The summit needs to be seen in a continuum.”
Next year is the deadline for countries that signed the Paris agreement to toughen up their goals, known as nationally determined contributions. “What we would like to see in this summit is people announcing that they would like to increase their ambition in 2020,” Mr Guterres said.
Contrary to a previous statement by the UN, he said that every country that had submitted a briefing that contained “positive developments” would be given time to speak at Monday’s summit. “Nobody was turned down,” he said. “They didn’t turn up.”
Those that will appear including the UK, China, India and the EU. However the US, which plans to withdraw from the Paris climate pact, will not be appearing. Neither will Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil.
Global temperatures have risen about 1C since pre-industrial times, and global emissions of carbon dioxide are still increasing, primarily due to growing Chinese emissions.
Although almost all the countries in the world signed the Paris climate accord which aims to limit global warming to well below 2C, current climate commitments suggest the world is very far from reaching that goal, and on track for 3C of warming or more by the end of the century.