At U.N. Climate Summit, a Call for Action Yields Few Commitments


Somini Sengupta and Lisa Friedman

c.2019 The New York Times Company


UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Climate Action Summit on Monday was meant to highlight concrete promises by presidents, prime ministers and corporate executives to wean the global economy from fossil fuels to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

But despite the protests in the streets, China on Monday made no new promises to take stronger climate action. The United States, having vowed to pull out of the Paris Agreement, the pact among nations to jointly fight climate change, said nothing at all. A host of countries made only incremental promises.

The contrast between the slow pace of action and the urgency of the problem was underscored by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, who excoriated world leaders for their “business as usual” approach. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” she said, her voice quavering with rage.

The summit comes at a time when the latest science shows that the world is getting hotter faster and the dangers of global warming are increasingly clear, with more intense hurricanes, longer droughts and heat records being broken. It was an opportunity to show that the world’s most powerful countries could step up.

Advocates and diplomats who have been following climate talks for years said they were disappointed.

Andrew Steer, head of World Resources Institute and a former World Bank official, said most of the major economies fell “woefully short” of expectations.

The United States did not request a speaking slot at the summit but President Donald Trump unexpectedly dropped into the General Assembly hall with Vice President Mike Pence in the late morning. Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who is now a U.N. special envoy for climate, welcomed Trump’s presence and addressed the president directly by saying “Hopefully our discussions here will be useful for you when you formulate climate policy.”

That was followed by laughter and applause. It signaled a sharp contrast from just a few years ago, when the United States was credited with pushing other countries to take climate change seriously.