UN Climate Action Summit: Surprise guests and harsh words

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World leaders gathered to share plans on how to tackle global warming. The biggest surprise, however, wasn’t a particularly ambitious climate action plan, but a pit-stop by climate change skeptic Donald Trump.

Over footage of wildfires, hurricanes and giant mountains of trash, a serious female voice talks about “humanity’s impact” on the Earth and what our way of living costs the planet. It wasn’t an excerpt from a brand new nature documentary, but the opening video of the Climate Action Summit that was projected on the walls of the UN General Assembly hall Monday morning.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres had invited representatives of roughly 60 UN member states to present concrete measures and commitments their countries would take to tackle global warming. In the run-up to the meeting, Guterres had warned countries not to show up with platitudes, but rather present new and ambitious plans of action on how to reach the goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Heads of states as well as business leaders were to detail how their nations and corporations would keep global warming to below 2 or even 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

“This is not a climate negotiating summit,” Guterres stressed in his speech following the art-installation-cum-opening-video, “this is a climate action summit.”

‘Germany sees its responsibility’

Many leaders complied with the instructions and came prepared with plans of how they wanted to protect their oceans, support developing countries in adapting to global warming or cut emissions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the first to speak at the more than 8-hour-long summit. She said that industrialized countries with their high emissions played the biggest part in creating the climate crisis and had “the obligation to put our technology, the best of our knowledge, and our finances into stopping global warming as we know it.”

“Germany sees its responsibility,” Merkel stressed. “We shall increase our funding for global climate protection from €2 billion to €4 billion ($4.4 billion) compared to 2014.” Germany would invest €1.5 billion in the Green Climate Fund, Merkel pledged.

The chancellor also said there was no doubt that climate change was man-made and talked about the importance of listening to scientists with knowledge on the issue — a point that seemed tailor-made for a surprise guest in the audience: US President Donald Trump.

Brief visit from Trump

The Trump administration was supposed to be represented by a government official. Instead, the commander-in-chief showed up himself. Not for long, however. After listening to speeches by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Merkel, Trump left to attend his own summit on religious freedom.

The visit amused summit attendees. Michael Bloomberg, the UN Special Envoy for Climate Action, got laughs and applause for his suggestion to the president.

“Hopefully our discussions here will be useful for you when you formulate climate policy,” Bloomberg said.

And Jaime Henn, cofounder and strategic communications director of environmental NGO 350.org said in an interview with DW that the president might have benefited from his time at the summit, short as it may have been.

“Who knows, maybe Trump learned something today,” Henn said with a laugh. “It was better than watching Fox News, that’s for sure.”

DW

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