By: Neha Mulay
Honeysuckle reports from the Opening Ceremony of the 2019 Climate Week.
“We are facing a climate emergency, and we are running out of time; however, something has dramatically changed this year. Throughout 2019, we have heard loud and clear the voices of millions of young people and even children across the world,” so spoke Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, the president of the government of Spain, at the opening ceremony of the 2019 Climate Week in New York City, which was held on the 23rd of September 2019.
The ceremony marked the beginning of Climate Week NYC, which took place from the 23rd to the 29th of September. Other speakers at the ceremony included Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark; Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica; as well as Governor Gavin Newsom of California.
Is 2019, as Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón seems to suggest, the turning point in the fight against climate change? On Friday, the 20th of September, millions of people around the globe marched and demanded that governments take concrete action against the issue of climate change. It is apparent that there is growing awareness and frustration, especially amongst the youth, who will one day bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change. The sheer magnitude and passion envisaged at these protests would indicate that something is indeed changing this year.
A large part of this shift is due to the fact that we are quickly running out of time. “The coming decade is crucial,” said Pérez-Castejón at the ceremony. The growing number of campaigns, events and activists dedicated to the cause can be attributed to the fact that the countdown has begun when it comes to climate change. But, while there is clearly a significant amount of dedication on behalf of activists and non-profits, are governments doing enough?
Carlos Alvarado Quesada spoke of Costa Rica’s decarbonization plan. Costa Rica plans to eliminate fossil fuels by 2050.
Mette Frederiksen spoke with optimism and reinforced Denmark’s commitment to the cause. Denmark is aiming for a 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. She said, “We have eleven years to handle one of the greatest challenges in the history of humanity. History has also shown us that nothing is impossible. I have no doubt in my mind that we will overcome this challenge as well. Denmark is, of course, more than ready to do our part.”
The prime minister’s optimism is commendable, and so is Denmark’s dedication to the cause. While it is clear that some governments are taking initiative, swift, global and urgent action is needed to reverse this ongoing catastrophe.
What level of commitment is being exhibited on the national level in the United States? Governor Newsom of California joked, “The American dream is alive and well in Denmark.” He also emphasized California’s successes in moving towards renewable energy while also maintaining a booming economy.
As I approached the event that morning, however, I was struck by the protesters outside the event who held signs asking Governor Newsom to ban fracking. While California is often viewed as the model on sustainable policy, fracking is an important issue that contributes to climate change. Ultimately, the challenge for governments is to balance economic interests with sustainability. Governor Newsom emphasized that the economy and sustainable policy are not only compatible but also mutually beneficial.
“California is significantly outperforming the USA in terms of GDP growth over a five-year period, not despite our environmental strategies but because of our environmental strategies,” he said, with infectious enthusiasm.
The prime minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, also made a similar point, stating, ‘We have proven in Denmark, for the last decade, that clean energy actually can go hand in hand with green economy, job creation and also being a modern welfare society.”
California and Denmark are world leaders in the sustainability arena; their policies, presence at the opening ceremony and speeches are evidence of that. However, Denmark is a small country and California is a state. While their actions are impressive and inspiring, what we need currently is national action, global action and, most importantly, unified and quick action.
So, why is 2019 being perceived as a turning point? The simple and honest answer is because it must be. We are quickly running out of time. What is clear is that the pressure is building on world leaders to take concrete and swift measures. 2019 feels like a turning point, but it will only materialize into one if we continue to demand more from our governments and if there is a serious, global commitment to the issue, not merely based on words but on immediate action.
Neha Mulay is a New York based Australian-Indian writer. She believes in the power of poetry, the importance of sustainability and the pleasure of an ethically sourced, perfectly made cup of coffee.