Zeno Thinks: Outrage and Hope on the Streets of New York
New York City’s been on my mind; not because I’m homesick for Broadway and bagels, but because last week was the culmination of the UN General Assembly and New York Climate Week. Every year UNGA serves as a status report on the world’s progress on 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that are at the heart of the UN’s 2030 Agenda.
If you’re like me, the news from New York has been hard to digest; it’s just so… underwhelming. Across the board, progress is distressingly behind schedule. People are still poor and starving, lacking access to quality education, healthcare and good jobs. Gender equality is far from accomplished, nor has discrimination or inequity been eliminated. The world is at war and injustice is the rampant symptom of systemic failures.
Then there’s the climate – and boy would I need more words to even brush the surface of the environmental landscape. At this point, we know that the global climate crisis is an existential threat to the world as we know it. Yet governments and corporations are nowhere near achieving their 2030 and 2050 goals.
From the amount of talk we hear about sustainability, carbon-capture, recycling, electric vehicles, net-zero and more, you’d think the world has made more progress than it has. In general, the achievements made to date are more ameliorative than preventative. It’s like bailing out the Titanic with a pail. It’s simply not enough.
UN Secretary General António Guterres summed it up, stating that current action on climate is “falling abysmally short”, adding: “G20 countries are responsible for 80% of greenhouse emissions. They must lead… they must break their addiction to fossil fuels, stop new coal.”
Far from proactive or accountable, many of the world’s wealthiest nations have so far fallen short of their pledge made at COP27 last November to provide $100bn in annual climate finance to developing countries alongside “loss and damage” aid for poor countries on the frontlines of climate change.
Despite Guterres’ pleas, some global leaders seem worryingly ambivalent. Of the five core members of the UN Security Council (USA, UK, France, China and Russia), only the US was represented at UNGA, where President Joe Biden made a stirring speech. Conspicuous in his absence, PM Rishi Sunak continues to signal that adhering to the Paris agreement is far from a priority to him, announcing on Wednesday that the UK would be delaying its ban on the sale of new gas and diesel cars by five years.
Outside of the official UN activities, there are countless independent climate events – and corporations have become increasingly involved in these, leveraging their influence towards social good. (Or, if you’re a cynic, virtue signaling for conscious consumers).
Well-attended as they are, they seem to lack some of the weight and authority of previous years. For me the only concurrent event to UNGA that stirred any optimism was the mass demonstration of tens of thousands of peaceful protesters who descended on Manhattan to say enough is enough.
I can’t help but think back to September 2021, when I attended the first UNGA/NYCW held in person after COVID. Everyone was so excited to be face-to-masked-face, full of optimism. COVID had proven that the world was capable of extraordinary adaptation and development in the face of crisis. It followed naturally that we could apply that agility to the climate crisis, redeveloping our infrastructure in a more sustainable and resilient manner.
That didn’t happen. And what is being done to mitigate the oncoming climate crisis… well I wouldn’t quite describe it as agile. I know I sound like a cynic – so many of us are, and for good reason – but I do have faith in the unending dedication of many of the thought leaders in this space. It takes a very special kind of person to fight the good fight no matter the odds, to continue to demand action even when no one wants to hear another word about this very upsetting subject matter.
Now it not the time to shut up. We need to shout louder in the hope – and despite everything I still hold out hope – that the decision-makers will finally wake up and listen.