These schoolchildren have grasped something that seems to elude many of their elders: we are in a race for our lives, and we are losing. The window of opportunity is closing; we no longer have the luxury of time, and climate delay is almost as dangerous as climate denial.
My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry.
Despite years of talk, global emissions are reaching record levels and show no sign of peaking. The concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is the highest it has been in 3 million years. The last four years were the four hottest on record, and winter temperatures in the Arctic have risen by 3°C since 1990. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, and we are starting to see the life-threatening impact of climate change on health, through air pollution, heatwaves and risks to food security.
Thankfully, we have the Paris Agreement – a visionary, viable, forward-looking policy framework that sets out exactly what needs to be done to stop climate disruption and reverse its impact. But the agreement itself is meaningless without ambitious action.
That is why I am bringing world leaders together at a Climate Action Summit later this year. I am calling on all leaders to come to New York in September with concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero by 2050.
The Summit will bring together governments, the private sector, civil society, local authorities and other international organizations to develop ambitious solutions in six areas: renewable energy; emission reductions; sustainable infrastructure; sustainable agriculture and management of forests and oceans; withstanding climate impacts; and investing in the green economy.
The latest analysis shows that if we act now, we can reduce carbon emissions within 12 years and limit global warming to 1.5°. But if we continue along our current path, the consequences are impossible to predict.
While climate action is essential to combat an existential threat, it also comes with costs. So action plans must not create winners and losers or add to economic inequality; they must be fair and create new opportunities for those negatively impacted, in the context of a just transition.
Business is on our side. Accelerated climate solutions can strengthen our economies and create jobs, while bringing cleaner air, preserving natural habitats and biodiversity, and protecting our environment.
New technologies and engineering solutions are already delivering energy at a lower cost than the fossil-fuel driven economy. Solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest sources of new bulk power in virtually all major economies. But we must set radical change in motion.
This means ending subsidies for fossil fuels and high-emitting agriculture and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices. It means carbon pricing that reflects the true cost of emissions, from climate risk to the health hazards of air pollution. And it means accelerating the closure of coal plants and replacing jobs with healthier alternatives so that the transformation is just, inclusive and profitable.
Momentum is building; people are listening and there is a new determination to unleash the promise of the Paris Agreement. The Climate Summit must be the starting point to build the future we need.
I will close with a message for the young women and men who were marching yesterday. I know young people can and do change the world.
Today, many of you are anxious and fearful for the future, and I understand your concerns and your anger. But I know humankind is capable of enormous achievements. Your voices give me hope.
The more I see your commitment and activism, the more confident I am that we will win. Together, with your help and thanks to your efforts, we can and must beat this threat and create a cleaner, safer, greener world for everyone.