By Kiran Garewal
October 8, 2018
Last month, I and four other members of the youth empowerment and ocean protection organization Heirs To Our Oceans – Aliyah, Max, Seth, and Sophie – attended the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. Aliyah and Max traveled from Palau to attend the summit while Seth, Sophie, and I are from the Bay Area. The summit was hosted by California Governor Jerry Brown to bring together 4,000 climate leaders to discuss and commit to climate action. It was a valuable opportunity for us to meet and hear from business and governmental leaders from around the world about their plans to address climate change.
The summit, which began on September 13, was preceded by the Rise for Climate march five days earlier. It was organized by several grassroots climate activist groups including 350.org, the Peoples Climate Movement, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby to push Governor Brown and other leaders to take drastic climate actions, such as not allowing any new oil drilling in the state. I participated in the San Francisco march, which had an estimated 30,000 people. There, I met with Kallan Benson, a fellow youth climate activist and the founder of Parachutes for the Planet who we met at the March for the Ocean in Washington, DC, this summer; she also attended the Global Climate Action Summit.
With the impressive turnout of the march in the rearview mirror, four of us Heirs attended the summit hoping that the leaders present would indeed take the actions called for by the tens of thousands of people who marched. The first set of plenary speeches were by prominent politicians and businesspeople who were taking a stand against climate change and working to move their territories/companies away from a dependence on fossil fuels. While there were many inspirational speeches, two that especially stood out to me were those of Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, and Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce. Mottley emphasized the importance of everyday citizens fighting against climate change and other environmental crises as governmental leaders cannot do it by themselves. As she eloquently put it, “many hands make light work.” She also announced that the nation of Barbados is targeting a completely fossil fuel-free economy by 2030. While Mottley and others shared how governments can effectively combat climate change, Benioff and some other businesspeople spoke about how businesses can help do the same. Benioff paid extra attention to the fact that climate change is not just an environmental issue, but also one that affects people and especially those who don’t have the resources to avoid its impacts. He said that it “cannot be solved by anyone, any person, any government, any scientific community, any business, any citizen alone… We have to create this and do this in a multistakeholder way.” Salesforce is already a climate leader, operating with net zero greenhouse gas emissions and has committed to 100% renewable energy by 2022.
We also attended some breakout sessions, including one featuring the mayors of many C40 cities. These mayors have pledged to a set of actions to address climate change, regardless of whether higher governmental levels are willing to do the same. In total, 96 cities representing more than 8% of the global population and 25% of the global GDP are members of the C40 group. Other breakout sessions we attended included those about the relationship between climate change and the oceans and the transition to clean energy transportation.
Finally, although the number of youths at the summit was relatively small, we did get a few chances to meet and connect with others, including at a youth happy hour hosted by NextGen America. This was a great opportunity to informally meet other youth delegates attending the summit, as they otherwise got lost in the crowd. Aliyah and I also got the opportunity to be interviewed by the Alliance for Climate Education’s Celeste Tinajero, which was a great experience and a perfect opportunity to talk about the importance of having the voices of youth heard at forums like the Global Climate Action Summit.
Overall, I think that the most important point I took away from the conference was one repeated by quite a few of the summit’s speakers: To reverse climate change, governments (local, regional, and national), businesses, and everyday citizens must all work together. This is a monumental issue that cannot be solved by just a few. As speakers from Mission 2020 stressed, we need to peak our greenhouse gas emissions within two years to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Indeed, at the conference, Benioff announced that 21 tech companies including his own have signed the Step Up Declaration to help achieve this goal. Some pledged actions include Lyft’s pledge to “immediately offset the carbon emissions from all rides globally,” Nokia’s pledge to “decreasing [their] greenhouse gas emissions associated with [their] own operations by 41% and from product usage by 75% by 2030, compared to a 2014 baseline,” WeWork’s pledge to “remove major single-use plastics from [their] buildings by the end of 2018,” and a number of other companies’ pledges to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions and invest in sustainable technologies. If you would like to learn more about Mission 2020 or the Step Up Declaration, please see their websites here and here, respectively. In the governmental realm, new commitments were announced as well. One notable such commitment was when Governor Brown signed California Senate Bill 100 a few days before the summit. This law put into place a plan to move California’s electricity supply to increasing percentages of renewable energy, culminating in 100% by 2045.
While it was great to see people from all sectors from all over the word working together to mitigate climate change, there were some problems we frequently heard about, especially outside of the summit. Summit participation was by invitation only, and only about 4,000 people were allowed in. This meant that, with few exceptions, the voices of lower-income communities who are disproportionally impacted by climate change were not directly heard at the summit. At the Rise for Climate march, I saw people of all social backgrounds, economic statuses, and political views march for climate action. At the Global Climate Action Summit, small promises were (rightly) cheered, but the bigger question of whether this was really enough was rarely asked.
I want to thank Governor Brown and his office, Salesforce, and all the other hosts and sponsors for allowing us youth delegates into the summit to share our perspectives, given that we will continue to be affected by today’s decisions for decades. I also urge them to take further action still to ensure that the voices of all people who are or will be affected by climate change are taken into account and that we stop climate change in its tracks as soon as possible.