GP Insights

GP Insights # 151, 21 September 2019

Climate Change protests ahead of the UN Summit
Lakshman Chakravarthy N

What happened?

On Friday, thousands of school-going children around the world organized protests for governments’ action against climate change. The young people are joined by scientists, doctors, and workers in the technology sector in various countries. The protests are one of the largest gathering of young people for climate action in each of the countries, and collectively, on a global scale spanning from developing to developed nations, across various continents. 

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist, is spearheading the protests from New York.

What is the background?

The protests are inspired by the activism of Greta Thunberg; she has become an influential figurehead for the current youth movement demanding climate action. She received the Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award the last week in the United States, after crossing the Northern Atlantic in an emissions-free yacht. She also addressed the US Congress on Wednesday, last week, and advocated paying heed to the scientists for facts about climate change. Her presence in the United States comes right before the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, scheduled on Monday, 23 September. This summit is to nudge the UN members to take tougher measures on redefining climate targets in accordance to the 2 degrees global target, who were given the leeway of setting their targets following the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.    

What does it mean?

The enhanced awareness compared to their parents’ generation, fuelled by effective connectivity over the internet, enabled the youth to organize movements of this nature and scale. Despite producing demands which are similar to the older-generation environmentalists, the young activists leading the movement effectively portrayed themselves as the victims-to-be of the inaction by the present-day power elite.

The impact of the protests will be put to test at the upcoming UN summit on Monday. Individual countries have already failed in meeting their own needs set at previous global summits, such as the Paris Climate Agreement. Given that backdrop, it remains a challenge whether the large scale of the protest can produce concentrated political pressure in individual countries, post the Monday’s summit.

Historically, young activists took to streets right from the war in Vietnam, through the protests for nuclear weapon ban, till the recent gun control protests. Despite the spectacle, it is highly unsure whether the momentum generated by this ‘wake-up call’ suggestion would trigger a much-required snowball effect in climate policymaking. Such an effect would need the whole spectrum of stakeholders in the process of authoring the climate action plan to alter their strategy, and not just to convince a few climate-denying politicians, say, to consider the Green New Deal in the Congress. At least, if this trigger can stimulate the world leaders to ease the labyrinthine process of drafting options for climate policy, that would be a step towards success that is worth the effort of our young citizens expending themselves in streets rather than in schools.  

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