Apart from 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s robust presentation at the UN climate summit in New York, the world was assured of a raft of new national commitments, including one by Narendra Modi, to tackle the climate crisis consequent to the escalating greenhouse gas emissions. It was clear nonetheless that the signal of intent may not be enough not the least because of the recalcitrance of the most damaging emitters, the United States of America and Brazil. It is the consistent recalcitrance of the two Presidents, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro that has in part impeded an agreement.
There was no joint statement. Such statements, whether in Copenhagen, Cancun or Paris have yielded little or nothing that is tangible. For, there is little that today’s comity of nations can do to seriously address the menace. Quite the most distressing feature of the autumn get-together in New York was the report of the World Meteorological Organisation, specifically the furnishing of new data showing 2014-19 to be the warmest five-year period on record. Markedly, the better part of this time-frame covers Mr Trump’s presidency.
Actually, however, it is what the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, calls the “stunning rise of the youth climate movement” that inspires hope that international goals to avoid catastrophic global heating may yet be met. Crucially, the summit was thrown open to world leaders who were expected to announce new initiatives on cutting planet-warming gases. It was designed to prod countries to do more to meet the commitments of the Paris climate accord.
Progress has been limited, going by the negatives in the climate narrative. Global emissions hit a record high last year; Donald Trump has said the US, the world’s second-largest emitter, will quit the Paris deal; and Brazil’s President Bolsonaro is in no hurry to douse the devastating fire in vast tracts of the Amazon rainforest. Industry and the agricultural economy have been accorded precedence in the Latin American nation. For all the hi-falutin speeches that resonated in the echo chambers of the United Nations, the outlook is bleak.
As bleak as the passing show on Kashmir as projected by Mr Modi and Imran Khan, with the latter iterating a nuclear war over the lockdown. Indeed, more soundbyte than substance marked the presentations in New York on a welter of issues. Rightly has the UN Secretary-General remarked: “Clearly, we are lagging behind and that there are many resistances in many areas. We are still running late and we need to accelerate. The next few years are absolutely crucial to reverse the present trend, that is still a negative trend. Climate change is the defining issue of our time.” On closer reflection, the defining moment was Greta Thunberg’s address.