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Green Is The New Black

What Happened At The UN Youth Climate Summit? 10 Things You Need To Know

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Three women sitting on chairs talking into a microphone

We tuned in to watch young changemakers take their place on the world stage to demand climate change action from world leaders, corporations, and politicians. Here are 10 things we learnt from the first-ever UN Youth Climate Summit

The hotly anticipated inaugural UN Youth Climate Summit took place on the 21 September. No doubt you will have read about Greta Thunberg‘s epic two-week Atlantic crossing via an emissions-free yacht to reach the event. Or watched on as over four million young activists participated in a global climate strike the day before proceedings kicked off. With over 1000 youth participants from 140 countries gathering to demand real climate action, the message was clear: there is no Planet B, the time for action is now. Didn’t catch the event? Fret not, we tuned into the live stream to hear exactly what went down during this inspiring day of talks, panels, and speakers. Here are 10 things we took away that you need to know about.

1. Antonio Guterres shared a scary reality 

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, appeared briefly to open the event alongside Greta Thunberg. In his remarks and post-event tweets, he shared that leading scientists tell us the gap between what we should be doing to tackle the climate crisis and what we are actually doing continues to widen. So what’s the reality? 2015 to 2019 is the warmest five year period on record. In 2018 there was a 2% growth in CO2 emissions to a record 37 billion tonnes. Climate impacts are hitting harder and sooner than previously predicted. And to meet the temperature limit outlined in the Paris Agreement (to limit global warming to 1.5º Celsius above pre-industrial levels), we need to increase our efforts by fivefold. Scary stuff.

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, Greta Thunberg, and three others sitting on chairs

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, alongside Greta Thunberg during the opening panel of the summit. UN Photo via Kim Haughton.

2. Impossible ideas are making progress

Let’s build an 8000km ‘green wall’ across Africa, they said. Sounds impossible, right? But we heard an inspiring update from youth leaders of the Greatgreenwall.org project as it reaches 15% completion. Once finished, it will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef. This seemingly impossible project is turning into a  groundbreaking solution to some of the urgent threats facing the planet, including climate change, drought, famine, conflict, and migration. 

3. Our insatiable appetite for data is killing the planet

Big data is big business, and our demand for it has a serious impact on the environment. Giant data farms now occupy huge swathes of land and consume huge amounts of electricity; by 2025 global data centres will use more than 25% of our global energy. This was the message from youth innovator Monika Seyfried, the brains behind Grow Your Own Cloud, a new biotech company storing data in the DNA of plants. This all-new cloud storage has the potential to store all of the world’s data in just 1kg of DNA (yes, really). If Seyfried has anything to do with it, we can expect to see ‘data forests’ popping up soon.

4. The worst offenders are firmly in the spotlight

Guess who’s responsible for 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions? 100 of the world’s largest companies, that’s who. What’s more, 20 of the most powerful countries are responsible for 80% of carbon emissions. While Guterres urged world leaders to ditch the chat and show up to the UN Climate Summit with tangible action plans, large corporates also found themselves in the spotlight during the Youth Summit. Thankfully, 87 of these have signed up to a pledge to take action and align their business with what scientists say is needed to limit the worst impacts of climate change. Let’s hope they stick to it.

5. Game-changing apps have been developed

Heard of the app on a mission to help Sub-Saharan African farmers produce up to 300% more grain annually? Us neither. That was until the budding developer of Wikilimo was announced as the winner of the UN Summer of Solutions competition. Utilising crowd-sourced data to provide hyper-local weather, pest, and agri-insights, Wikilimo aims to help small farmers protect crops against erratic weather patterns caused by climate change.

6. The time is now; island nations are suffering today

While for many of us the impact of climate change is currently not life-threatening, the same cannot be said for those living in island nations. In particular, extreme weather caused by climate change is devastating islands in the South Pacific now. Two-time Olympian and UNICEF Pacific Ambassador, Pita Taufatofua, spoke powerfully about the destruction of Tonga due to extreme and unusual weather conditions. Meanwhile, climate change advocate Komal Kumar opened the event stating her country (Fiji) was suffering greatly from the impact of a climate crisis it had contributed very little in creating. In a firm warning to global leaders who deny climate change, she added, “we will hold you accountable. And if you do not remember, we will mobilize to vote you out”. Take note, Trump.

The beautiful low-lying island nation of Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean is another region of concern and is particularly susceptible to higher sea levels caused by climate change. Image via UNDP Tuvalu / Aurelia Rusek.

7. Innovation in solving the plastic crises

The latest data shows that only 16% of plastic is recycled, 25% is incinerated, and 55% ends up in a landfill (who knows what happens to the remaining 4%). Young innovator, Edgar Mejia, showcased his innovative idea to use plastic waste as a material for 3d printing. He described a future whereby upcycling plastic in this way would become the norm for households, thus reducing plastic waste significantly.

8. We need to rethink politics

To reach the global goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, there needs to be a seismic shift in our fuel consumption. Governments are still supporting coal, oil, and natural gas over other cleaner alternatives, and the fossil fuel industry continues to be heavily subsidised to the tune of trillions of dollars every year. Oh, and unbelievably we’re still building coal power plants. The message from the summit was clear: governments need to stop the subsidies, rethink their approach to clean energy, and they need to do it now. The climate crisis is one that can be solved if there is the political will.

9. Small everyday actions make a big difference

We’ve been spreading the #LittleGreenSteps message since the launch of GITNB. And with its latest campaign, ActNow, the UN backs up our theory and echoes our core value that small everyday actions can make a big difference. At the summit, we saw the UN championing its all-new ActNow app that encourages people to think about and share the climate-friendly choices we can all make every single day. Want in? Download the app at un.org/actnow.

10. There is hope!

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the scale of the task at hand, but the number of solutions presented at the summit from around the globe was inspiring. The demand for real climate action was loud and clear, and in the words of Greta Thunberg “The world is united, and young people are unstoppable”. Let’s hope the corporations, politicians, and world leaders are finally listening.


Leading image via UN.ORG

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