On Sunday, September 21, nearly 100,000 people are expected to converge on Manhattan for the People’s Climate March, the largest climate activism event the world has ever seen. Sister events are taking place all over the world as well.
“The heads of state are gathering, but we don’t have a voice, the people don’t have a voice,” says Cindy Greenberg of 350.org. She says the “massive mobilization” is taking place to show leaders of the world that “the debate is over” and climate change is real.
What is decided within the walls of the UN, Congress, and Parliaments have a very real, immediate impact on citizens, but there is only one representative of civil society who will be allowed to speak on behalf of hundreds of climate-focused NGOs and groups in front of the United Nations.
“It sends an interesting message to the people of the world,” says Greenberg.
An army of Oscar-nominated celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, recently named an Ambassador of Peace for Climate Change, and Mark Ruffalo, have gotten behind the climate action movement and will be marching along with the likes of 350.org founder Bill McKibben and thousands of people looking for governmental action on climate policies. The march will begin in Columbus Circle and Central Park and end at the footsteps of United Nations Headquarters.
Greenberg says the march is a way of showing that people are holding officials and private sector actors in decision-making capacities accountable for their actions. In an important show of solidarity, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will also be marching with the historic crowd.
Lidy Nacpil, the chair of Philippines Movement for Climate Justice, is one of millions who lives with the effects of climate change on a daily basis. Her native country is hit by typhoons year after year. Nacpil understands that climate change can be supported by all manner of scientific facts, but it will take real policy changes to address “the urgency of the issue,” like the destructions of homes, land, and livelihoods. Her alliance has developed a “people’s platform” on climate-resilient reconstruction and adaptation because the government response has been less than adequate. She marches not just for the Philippines but for all Pacific Island nations that are drowning as a result of climate change-induced natural disasters.
Secretary Ban has said that “climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time” and now he is urging world leaders to make concrete progress before the end of 2015, the target date set for international climate development goals by the UN.
Dr. Saleem Huq, Senior Fellow in the Climate Change Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development, says that climate change is “a truly global problem…every single human being on planet Earth…has a carbon footprint.”
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will arbitrate a series of ongoing negotiations between Member states. They meet throughout the year with scientists like Dr. Huq, authoring reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). They also have a Conference of Parties (COP) annually to discuss the terms of policy agreements based on the IPCC reports, but progress is slow as a result of politics and competing priorities for public funds.
This Summit is not within the UN framework of negotiations, but it is being held at UN Headquarters during a week when hundreds of influential business leaders will also be in town. It may surprise some to see China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas, giving one of the keynote addresses, but despite the economic giant’s more than questionable environmental record, they do tend to join forces with the world’s developing countries when it comes to holding the developed world responsible for much of the effects of climate change.
The phrase that will no doubt be thrown around quite a bit at the day-long Summit will be “climate finance”: A term for how much money will need to be apportioned to both repair the present damage of climate change and make cities, islands and ecosystems more resilient to its effects in the future.
A series of ‘commitments’ are also set to be announced in conjunction with the Summit, but Nacpil says she has “no delusions” about public or private financing to reach the $100 billion mark by 2020, a goal set by the Green Climate Fund. Developing countries are hoping that the likes of the U.S., Europe, and Australia will pledge funds to finance infrastructure or decarbonization efforts.
Whatever the outcome of the Climate Summit and associated financial commitments, the People’s Climate March sends a clear message to world leaders in town that their discussions and decisions cannot be made behind closed doors but must take into account the millions affected by climate change.