By Lilian Jin
On September 20th-27th, 7.6 million people across the globe took to the streets to call for climate action. Millions of students around the world have been leaving classrooms on Fridays to strike for their future. This number is still growing as 185 countries, 3,000 companies and 6,100 events rally for one of the most massive global protests in history. But what came of it?
Let’s start with the origin story. You may have seen the name Greta Thunberg pop up in headlines in the past two weeks. Back in 2018, the 16-year-old activist sat outside the Swedish parliament every Friday for 3 weeks to protest against the lack of climate actions taken. Today, Greta is leading a youth movement of student strikers across 150 countries called #FridaysforFuture.
The massive September strikes were a part of the Global Week for Future, and started just ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit. The summit brought in world leaders to confirm how they would step up their action plans in 2020 to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement. Greta delivered an opening speech at the summit, scolding attendees for failing future generations with their inaction.
The Paris Agreement was ratified in November 2016 by 186 countries who pledged to keep global warming this century below 2°C. The goal was to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C, cut global carbon emissions in half by 2030 and aim for zero net emissions by 2050.
So how would 2 degrees affect us? A 2018 study estimated that global GDP would plummet by 15.0%. Extreme heat will ultimately raise food prices. In Canada, droughts and floods could reduce crop yields by 50.0%. Hotter summers would increase heat-wave deaths in livestock and reduce production in the dairy industry. Bloomberg’s climate risk report assessed that by 2050, the US alone could lose up to $106.0 billion of coastal property and infrastructure to rising sea levels. To account for the cost of extreme weather, insurance firms would have to raise premiums, making insurance unaffordable for many. The Carbon Disclosure Project found that in the upcoming decades, 215 of the world’s 500 largest corporations will face $1.0 trillion in costs as climate change disrupts supply chains and regulations decrease the value of oil and gas investments.
On September 23, 2019, the Climate Summit closed with 70 countries and 100 business leaders announcing significantly upgraded actions to tackle the crisis. Among major countries, France announced it would not enter trade with countries countering the Paris Agreement, UK doubled its climate funding to £11.6 billion for the next 5 years, China announced a partnership that could remove 12 billion tons of global emissions annually, the Russian Federation joined the Paris Agreement, and the EU dedicated 25% of their budget towards climate activities.
In the private sector, 87 companies with a total market cap of US$2.3 trillion and a third of the global banking sector pledged to align their businesses with a 1.5°C future. The world’s largest asset-owners, with $2 trillion in investments, committed to shift to carbon-neutral portfolios by 2050. On transitioning to green energy, Michael Bloomberg has already helped close 56.0% of coal plants in the US, France and New Zealand will not permit oil and gas exploration on their lands, and several European countries will be phasing out coal entirely. Many countries doubled their contributions to the Green Climate Fund which helps developing countries combat climate change, and by 2025, US$1.0 trillion in clean energy investments will go to the 20 least developed countries.
Wondering how you can contribute to the cause? The United Nations’ ActNow campaign calls on everyone to take small but key actions that can make a big difference:
- Five-Minute Showers
- Drive Less
- Lights Off
- Local Produce
- Meat-free Meals
- Zero-Waste Fashion
- Refill and Reuse
- Bring Your Own Bag
Today, 248,022 of these actions have been recorded globally. How many can you incorporate into your daily life?
Featured image by Mika Baumeister.