UN meeting failure, so what now?

This is the final version of a post first published on Thursday 26 September. This version contains additional material, and a considerable amount of the earlier version has been pruned.

I hope to do a specific post on the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. Meanwhile we have a closing media release from the summit. While it tells us that “77 countries committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, [and] while 70 countries announced they will either boost their national action plans by 2020 or have started the process of doing so”, none of the large emitters were included. Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations at the The University of Queensland, gives a neat summary with lots of links in Highly touted UN climate summit failed to deliver – and Scott Morrison failed to show up.

One success of the Summit was Greta Thunberg’s amazing speech:

Greta Thunberg “We’ll be watching you!”

This speech was given as part of a panel session during the main conference on Monday 23 September, although I can’t find it on the official agenda.

The speech, 495 words long and lasting about 4:30 minutes, was obviously carefully crafted and prepared, where the phrasing and pauses had meaning. It will long be replayed and studied (text here), and may well earn Thunberg a Nobel Peace Prize. She has already been named one of the 2019 recipients of the Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” and back in July, the Freedom Prize, awarded by the Normandy Region.

Along with the hundreds of millions of protesters who went on strike (see ACF photos), will it have an effect?

Scott Morrison made some patronising remarks about not scaring children, and then went on to say Australia’s record was misrepresented by the media and spurned criticism of Australia’s record on climate change.

Fact-checking found most of his claims questionable or bunkum. Australia is in fact notoriously seen internationally as a climate change laggard. There was excellent debunking in these two ABC RN segments:

At SBS, Scott Morrison’s UN speech was ‘colossal bulls**t’, says Climate Council chief and The New Daily, Climate scientists blast Scott Morrison’s ‘ludicrous’ UN speech.

[Update: From RMIT ABC Fact Check, We fact checked Scott Morrison’s speech to the United Nations. Here’s what we found.

What success Australia has had owes little to if anything to Coalition policies.]

On the involvement of children, Morrison should listen to what Prof Anne Samson said.

Kids have a right to know what is in store for them in the future, and to be involved in what might contribute to change. These rights are enshrined in the UN Rights of the Child. Many will know any way, and adults pretending everything will be lovely is patronising and foolish. Also UN Rights, Item 12 reads:

    Children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account.

So far the protests have not cut through to fog of denial and inaction. Nevertheless, Natasha Gillezeau and Tim Boyd in their AFR article Cyclone Greta shakes up the climate change debate find that climate change is penetrating common transactions of human life.

    Some business executives were particularly critical of Thunberg’s claim that “we are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of endless economic growth”.

They accused her of “catastrophism”. Then we have Queensland LNP politician George Christensen, who:

    attracted widespread criticism for changing his Facebook page’s cover photo to a picture of the teenager with a red cross over her mouth, declaring his social media page a “Greta Free Zone”.

Guy Rundle at Crikey places Greta Thunberg in a fine tradition of speaking truth to power:

    Paradoxically, what draws people to Thunberg, and various comparable figures, from Martin Luther King Jr to Jesus, is that what she says is simple, rational and forensic in precisely the way that politicians should be.

She’s part of a cult of rationality, if you like.

Scott Morrison, Rundle says, is paid to be rational, but:

    addresses the UN with a speech oozing the sub-Krishnamurtiesque psycho-religious fusion of positive thinking.

    Hillsong have done their work well on Morrison; his version of Christianity perfectly expresses the degree to which it has become an adjunct to the narcissistic cult of the self, a device to support flagging spirits and instil self-belief by turning away from objective truth.

    Morrison’s concern at teenagers feeling horror and despair at the future to come is quite likely genuine. But the solution — to address the thinking about reality with other thinking about non-reality — marks him, and others, as the true cultists, devotees of the childish belief that life is specially arranged in one’s own favour.

Thunberg has apparently received the usual voluminous quota of threats, porn, and racist messages. She chose to answer one troll named Donald Trump, who happens to be POTUS. She asks quite reasonably, why adults mock ‘children for promoting science’.

At the Summit she was addressing a room full of presidents, prime ministers, mayors and business leaders, who have stolen her dreams.

    “You have stolen my dreams, my childhood, with your empty words,” Thunberg, the 16-year-old powerhouse activist from Sweden, said. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about are your fairy tales of money and eternal economic growth.”

In the end, after accusing the current establishment of essentially being too immature to face reality and see it like it is, she draws a line:

    You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.

As Richard Flanagan says, it’s not so much “I have a dream” as “I have a nightmare”.

The ABC RN Signal team in examining Is climate change an excuse to break the law? asked what would satisfy the protesters?

The answer is a bit vague, but it amounts to ‘appropriate’ co-ordinated global action.

Greta Thunberg pretty much nailed what the IPCC is offering us, and so spectacularly failing to achieve:

    The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

    Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.

Remember, with 1.5°C, 70 t0 90% of the world’s reefs die, sea levels will continue to rise, dangerous weather and wildfires will increase. Tipping points are likely already in play. If a plane had a 1 in 100 chance of crashing, you would not fly in it. What we are being offered by the authorities is a sick joke. The emperor has no clothes.

The only way to aspire to a safe climate is to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations as rapidly as possible, while transforming our economy to net zero also as a matter of urgency. 2050 is way too late.

The future does not need to be energy poor. There are paths in new technology opening up where we can provide food and shelter plus achieve economic growth while actually restoring the ecology of the planet.

We just need a paradigm shift in our thinking towards recognising that the present climate is already unacceptably dangerous, and that we need to aspire to achieving a safe climate.

We need to craft a narrative of genuine hope, rather than just a list of grievances, however warranted.

Notes: First, Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, has researched hundreds of campaigns over the last century and found that:

    nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.

If the population of Australia is around 25 million, that would require about 875,000. The demonstrations on Friday came in at less than half that number, so there is a way to go.

They were still impressive, though, and said to be the biggest we have seen.

Second, Belinda Xie and Ben Newell’s research Why attending a climate strike can change minds (most importantly your own) shows that at least the protesters benefit, basically through feelings of solidarity and empowerment.

Not to be sneezed at.

Finally, First Dog on the Moon addresses THE GRETA THUNBERG PROBLEM, so many men freaking out about the tiny Swedish climate demon, asking:

    Is she the brainwasher or brainwashee?


This post at Phys Org, which talks about who Greta travels with (her dad, for starters), that she writes her own material, but talks for input to leading scientists like Johan Rockström, Stefan Rahmstorf, Kevin Anderson, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Glen Peters and others.

Update 2 (5 October 2019):

From Climate Home News This is what the world promised at the UN climate action summit.

A complete list, for the record.

21 thoughts on “UN meeting failure, so what now?”

  1. I have to go to work today, so I’ve posted this one rather than leave it. Please consider it as a final draft. I’ll have another look tonight.

  2. I’ve corrected a few glitches, added this photo at the end:

    In the middle I asked whether the protests and Thunberg’s speech would have an effect. I haven’t really answered that, so more to do tonight.

  3. I’m working on this post this afternoon (Sat 28/9). When I’ve finished I think it will be rather different. I thought the changes would be trivial, but new perspectives have come to light.

    Sorry about that!

  4. Finished! I won’t do that again!

    The final has new material and left large chunks of the earlier one out, hopefully to be used elsewhere.

  5. Brilliant work Brian! You are a great compilation artist, and becoming ever better. I applaud your growing ability to recognise that a person obtaining a title does not necessarily make them worthy of it, and that they need to be exposed for the danger that inappropriate people in public positions pose to the greater community.

  6. One kid I know who didn’t go to the climate said he didn’t go because he felt

    It would make no difference.

    The reaction to Greta and the climate strike shows that many politicians felt threatened by the strike.

  7. Thanks, BilB. It’s a lot of work and I get a bit frustrated by what I don’t get done.

    John D, if next year is even bigger, it may have some effect. Geoff Cousins says that you just have to keep on and on, and eventually change will come.

    However, taking CO2 out of the air and all the other things that need to be done, do require commitment from the major powers and co-ordinated action. I’m hoping that China realising that sea level rise is coming to get them may be the tipping point.

    Meanwhile in the UK Labour conference backs radical move to work towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and Labour unveils £83bn state windfarms plan before key climate vote .

  8. There’s a lot of stuff going down all around the world right now. In my (flawed?) living memory I don’t recall so many theatres in play at the same time. Maybe it was always going on, and the difference is the technical ability to share stuff pretty much in real time.
    Something that has made me wonder is the seemingly blind adherence that significant numbers of the population hold for various “doctrines”. E.g. flat earth, Elvis lives, climate denial and of course loyalty to Trump. In the face of overwhelming argument, there is passionate defence of what are usually positions without merit.
    I’ve been trying to understand how this happens, what gets lodged in the brain that stops the rational flow of thought process? Whilst I think many of us suffer that sort of impediment in one frame or another, in general we can be persuaded by logic and evidence. However, in the case of American Republican politicians their loyalty is seemingly impervious to any Trump action, not matter how serious or destructive. The New York Times Peter Wehner has posted “What’s the matter with Republicans?” today.
    I think it gives me at least a little insight into where the rigidity and sacrifice of principle comes from not just in Trump world but in other discussions too. It’s a bit of a read but here it is:


    Lastly, it seems that Trump prevailed upon Morrison along the same lines as he did in the Ukraine. Not sure of the timeline but I’m not sure whether Morrison made this public or it came from the US. Either way we should demand a transcript, and we should be told what response Australia offered.

  9. Geoff, I’ve been looking at how we set climate targets, and came upon this post Climate crunch: the fierce urgency of now from January 2011.

    The post is a reprise of one I did in November 2009, which didn’t survive the transfer of posts from Larvatus Prodeo. The post begins with:

    Back in 2003 James Hansen was saying that we had about 10 years to get ourselves organised to tackle global warming and climate change. You ignore him at your peril.

    Well, policy makers did ignore him. As for me, I peaked in extreme language at that point. I was often seen as an alarmist, but the facts were alarming.

    I could speculate as to why, but I actually have a work day today.

    I try not to get too emotional, because it inhibits perception and gets in the way of effective response.

    Morrison, when he was newly PM and was asked about emissions reduction said he’d never thought about it. But he did seem to enjoy stroking a lump of coal, which had been polished so that it didn’t dirty his hands, shirt and suit.

    He’s a shallow man, and contemptible if you want to waste emotion on him, which I don’t.

  10. It’s difficult to accept that the PM has never thought about emissions reductions, given that the idolised PM Howard took an emissions reduction policy – however flawed – to the general election that he lost to Mr Rudd.

    Does someone reach the PM’s position while lacking a political memory?

    And once there, does he expect voters to forget what we’ve all been through??

  11. GH: This bit from the link you gave above says a lot that is relevant.

    “All people in elective politics are interested in self-preservation,” a Republican who served in the Senate told me. “Any negative comment by a Republican in Congress about the president would invite trouble in the next election either in the form of opposition in the next primary or lack of support in the general.”

    “Until Republicans feel their existence is threatened by Trump’s mendacity and corruption, most will be blind to it,” a former Republican presidential aide told me. “That isn’t to say there won’t be leading indicators of potential moral restoration,” he said, “but in the meantime, the cowed stay in line like the trophies of a bully.”

    “This storm has more staying power than most,” he added, ominously.

    There’s also this to factor in: For many Republican members of Congress, the president is more popular among Republican voters in their districts and states than they are. Even in the districts of moderate Republicans, Trumpist true-believers are the most vocal supporters of the party, the ones who do the essential grass-roots work. So to go crosswise of a sitting president of one’s own party invites political trouble, which most politicians seek to avoid. That is especially true when it comes to Mr. Trump, who specializes in savaging Republicans — and everyone else, for that matter — who dare to criticize him.

    “They don’t want to get bludgeoned,” a person who served in Congress told me. “Their mind is looking for a rationale for not having to do it.” In addition, this person added, Mr. Trump has “conditioned people in the base so much so that it’s just ‘us versus them’ and that if you give an inch on him, you’re just giving the other side what they want. You’ve made yourself a ‘useful idiot.’”
    “It’s easier to stay with the tribe,” this individual told me. “It’s easier to stay with the team.” Even when the leader of the team is thoroughly corrupt.

    I think you need to keep in mind that the Democrats with their support for things like free markets have made things much much harder for ordinary working class white men and their partners to the point where they have switched their support to the Republicans and the Republicans Tea party ally/invasive parasite. Trump is seen as a champion by many of these people. People who are quite capable of throwing out the politicians who voted for a Trump impeachment when it comes to the primaries where they have a chance to vote for Trump supporting candidates.
    It is worth noting that the LNP appears to be attracting support from people who used to be Labor voters.

  12. Scott Morrison pledges Australia’s help as Donald Trump investigates Mueller probe ‘hoax’

    US President Donald Trump asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison for Australia’s help in investigating the origins of the Mueller investigation into Russian election interference.

    Key points:
    Former UK high commissioner Alexander Downer helped trigger an initial FBI investigation into Mr Trump’s links with Russia
    US Attorney-General William Barr has been running a counter-investigation into the Mueller report
    The Prime Minister’s office says Australia is ready to help Mr Barr’s probe
    A Federal Government spokesperson confirmed the request, which is believed to have happened weeks ago after Mr Trump criticised Australia over the investigation by former FBI head Robert Mueller.

    Bill Shorten said on the topic:

    Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten demanded Mr Morrison release the full transcript of his conversation with Mr Trump.
    “Prime Minister Morrison got a very warm, indeed special reception from President Trump. Mr Morrison needs to clean up the perception that perhaps the special reception was returned for special favours done,” he said.
    “The Australian people value and cherish the American alliance, but no Australian wants to see our Prime Minister having the perception of being a lapdog to a particular US president or American domestic political agenda.”

    Both Australia and the US should stay outside of the others internal politics and be seen to be doing so.

  13. Thanks JD. I’m still digesting why people can hang on so tightly to concepts that are irrational.
    I’m also not quite clear on how the electoral colleges are linked to voters. Historical money seems to play a very powerful role as does linkage to powerful people. I’m leaning towards the idea that American democracy is way different to what I thought, and I find that embarrassing.

  14. GH: US democracy was developed in a world where most leaders were kings, the leader of the US and many of the writers who said “all men are created equal” owned slaves and ponies were the way voting results were carried across the country. It was also a place that had a civil war in which it was the Republican party that supported freeing the slaves.
    Someone said to me once that one of the strengths of the US is that it is capable of making dramatic changes. Perhaps Trumps real gift to the country will be his demonstration of many of the weaknesses of the US.

  15. Geoff, John is right. The US system was developed in the 18th century, when there was a widespread distrust for notions of democracy. As I understand it, the electoral college system was designed to make sure the voters got it right, voters at that time being restricted to property-owning males.

    Apparently it is still not mandatory in all states for the ‘electors’ to vote in line with the actual vote of the people, and Google told me that:

    Ultimately, Trump received 304 electoral votes and Clinton garnered 227, as two faithless electors defected from Trump and five defected from Clinton. Trump is the fifth person in U.S. history to become president while losing the nationwide popular vote.

    The short story is that the electoral college votes in each state is equal to the number of HoR reps plus senators.

    I can’t understand the rationale for winner takes all in each state.

    There are explainers at HuffPost and at Wikipedia.

  16. Every phrase of Greta Thunberg’s speech is being picked up.

    Jennifer Ellen Good of Brock University in Greta Thunberg’s Radical Climate Change Fairy Tale Is Exactly The Story We Need latches onto:

    “We are in the beginning of mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”

    Good is telling us that we lack awareness of the notion that eternal economic growth is basically a Ponzi scheme which is now catching up with us.

    The issue is too big for me to tackle in a blog comment right now.

  17. JD I sense that there is something deep and fundamentally wrong with American politics, and that the concept of democracy is used as a tool to mask the real machinations of government in the US. If democracy does exist in the US, it is “managed” and manipulated such that it looks like the citizens are in charge, but really their influence is seriously capped – unless you have great wealth.
    I really don’t know how to articulate my thoughts, probably because I just don’t know enough about the topic. But it is important to me because I see other leaders taking heart from Trump’s brazen abandonment of rules and process. E.g. Boris who thumbs Parliament and Morrison who does not even attend the UN Climate Change event.

  18. John Hewson had some interesting things to say about climate action. This included:

    I think it’s quite notable that of the 100 largest economies in the world, 69 are companies, not countries,”
    “And we’ve been looking to government for leadership — in actual fact, maybe it’s these companies that are sending us the signals that need to be responded.”

    Jumpy and I both say something like this in different ways from time to time.
    Sure there are companies that think “long term is after lunch” and “greed is good” but the more thoughtful ones have long term plans that influence what they do in the short term and what they pressure global governments to do.
    When I started work one of the things I worked on was finding the coal supplies that BHP steelworks would need in 25 yrs time. If governments do nothing much for 25 yrs companies that take a longer view can see a crisis coming that will be debt with by massive disruption driven by the massive environmental crisis government dithering will have given us.

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