As young people took to the streets worldwide again on Friday, urging more action to stop the planet heating up, analysts warned the U.N. climate conference taking place over the next two weeks would likely fall short of public expectations.
Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has inspired a global movement of children who skip school on Fridays to hold marches and rallies demanding politicians treat climate change as an “emergency” and boost efforts to curb planet-warming emissions.
In a comment piece written with fellow activists from Chile and Germany, Thunberg said they had a “simple” message for leaders headed to the Madrid talks: “The eyes of all future generations are upon you. Act accordingly.”
After a year of strikes for climate action, students had succeeded in getting their voices heard in “the corridors of power”, but still world leaders “do nothing”, they wrote.
“We will do whatever it takes to persuade our leaders to unite behind science so clear that even children understand it,” they added.
This Friday, groups of young Americans are planning a “Black Friday Strike”, from Los Angeles to New York, to boycott the celebration of consumer discount shopping and to advocate for “a change to business-as-usual to confront the climate crisis”.
Andrew Steer, who heads the U.S-based World Resources Institute, noted the rise of “people power” over the past year, with more than 7 million turning out for protests in September as the U.N. chief convened a summit to drive climate action.
“The issue is rising on the agenda, both in the United States and globally,” Steer told journalists ahead of the Dec. 2-13 U.N. talks in Madrid, known as COP25.
In Britain and the United States, political contenders have taken part in public debates on climate change ahead of planned elections.
Meanwhile, a growing number of governments at national and city level are declaring “climate emergencies”, joined on Thursday by the European Parliament.
Others, including small-island developing states and some Latin American and African countries, have pledged to work on cutting their emissions to net-zero by mid-century.
A total of 68 countries have so far said they intend to raise the ambition of their national climate action plans next year – but they represent only 8% of global emissions.
Ahead of COP25, climate experts said the biggest-emitters – including the United States, Brazil and China – would likely stay “missing in action” as opposition to winding down polluting fossil fuels sharpens among right-wing policymakers.
Former Costa Rica climate negotiator Mónica Araya said the “very best” that could be expected from COP25 was “a promise” that countries would upgrade their national climate action plans by the end of 2020, in line with the 2015 Paris agreement.
But that outcome would likely seem out of step with the “more angry, urgent moral narrative” shaped by youth-led popular climate strikes around the world since 2018, she noted.
“Now more than ever in this COP, we will see a very big gap between the negotiations inside and the emotions outside,” said Araya, founder of clean development platform Costa Rica Limpia.
Ahead of the Madrid talks, Spain’s Minister for the Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera said the meeting should mark “the start of a decisive year for climate ambition”.
It needed to lay the foundation for countries in 2020 to commit to cutting emissions more steeply, as scientists advise, with the aim of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the lower goal set in the Paris accord, she said.
“This is what societies are demanding,” Ribera said, noting that efforts would be made to “try to ensure that the demands by young people to raise climate ambition echo throughout COP25”.
In a long-running opinion poll published Friday, Europeans for the first time said the fight to tackle climate change and protect the environment was the most important issue for parliamentarians to address, with 32% putting it as their top priority.
The Eurobarometer survey also showed close to six out of 10 European citizens were confident or convinced that youth-led protests had directly impacted national and European policy.
Laurence Tubiana, who played a key role in securing the Paris Agreement as France’s special envoy, said the student strikers were making governments “show the truth” by speaking “bluntly” about their inadequate response to climate change.
“The youth movement has an enormous role to play in keeping governments and business accountable,” said Tubiana, now CEO of the European Climate Foundation.
At COP events scheduled for next Monday and Thursday, young people will get a chance to voice their views about the need to protect the planet for their own and future generations.
Thunberg is sailing back to Europe across the Atlantic on a low-carbon journey to the climate conference after its venue was abruptly moved to Spain from Chile, which has been dogged by violent social unrest.
Some climate experts are concerned that the last-minute venue switch for the COP25 talks may hamstring broader participation, especially by Latin American activists.
The cancellation on Chilean soil disappointed many civil society groups, who could not afford to travel to Spain at short notice, they noted.
Araya said the change of venue had been “very painful” for them, with some fearing it would undermine a hoped-for focus on respecting the human rights of environmental defenders, a big issue in South America, which is rich in natural resources.
One thread uniting popular climate change movements around the world is a push for governments to take social equity into account when addressing the threat – a conversation that should start at COP25, analysts said.
Niranjali Amerasinghe, executive director of ActionAid USA, said justice issues should be key to climate responses, whether in ensuring a sustainable future for young people or helping poor communities hit hardest by wilder weather and rising seas.
“Those things resonate a bit stronger given the (global) political context,” she added.