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In September 2014, the largest ever climate marches were held in over 2,000 different locations across the globe. In New York City, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, whilst London saw at least 40,000 people turn out for the demonstrations, including celebrities like Emma Thompson, Vivienne Westwood and Peter Gabriel. There were a variety of smaller such marches across the UK.
These marches took place ahead of the UN Climate Summit and are a hopeful sign that we’ll be seeing actual change soon. With more people showing their support than ever, climate change has been brought into the spotlight it badly needs, with the marches serving to ignite public discourse regarding the topic. Hopefully, the voice of the people will also, from now on, further inspire actions from those that can have the most influence: heads of state and large corporations into backing new ideas and pushing forward change.
On September 23, 125 heads of state and government, alongside many environment activists, celebrities and business leaders attended the UN Climate Summit in New York. It was the first of its kind in five years and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon summarised it as follows: “this was a great day!” Perhaps it was. Certainly more was achieved than at the last climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009. But there is still a long way to go – a “good” day would have been more apt. As Grace Machel, Nelson Mandela’s widow, concluded at the Summit: “there is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today. The scale [of the problem] is much more than we have achieved.”
But that’s not to say significant progress hasn’t been made. One major success of the Summit was the commitment of 32 countries and many big multinational corporations (Kellog’s, Nestlé, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, Proctor & Gamble and more) to slow and stop their deforestation by 2030. It was a noteworthy turnout, showing that climate change is no longer the elephant in the room; world leaders and corporations alike have recognized the need to address it and are prepared to discuss the measures they will take to combat it.
But words – and signatures for that matter – are one thing. Backing them up with actions is quite another, especially when, as in this case, missing the specified targets doesn’t have direct consequences for those involved. Precisely what kind of action will be taken by each of the countries and corporations remains, for the most part, in doubt. Unless this is remedied and more concrete plans are put into place, it is unlikely these goals will be achieved. And it is desperately necessary that they are.
As Ban Ki-Moon said in his address to the UN General Assembly: “the human, environmental, and financial cost of climate change is fast becoming unbearable.” The scale of climate change and its effects have become too big to ignore. A global temperature rise of the seemingly insignificant two degrees could have devastating effects from higher sea levels to further extreme weather conditions.
Another initiative to halt or this devastating process is the Green Climate Fund, which was founded in 2010 to support developing countries who are coping with climate change. In this vein the 2014 Climate Summit saw even more support from developed countries. Most notably, France committed $1bn – the largest sum since Germany’s monetary commitment last July. Other countries included South Korea, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and more. The total $2.3bn raised fell woefully short of the $10-15bn needed.
On the whole though, the huge turnout for the climate change marches and the results of the Climate Summit are heartening. More than ever has been achieved and that’s something worth commending; it shows that the world has finally woken up to the realities of climate change. Now only time will tell whether it will be enough.