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Experts from around world gathering at UN for climate summit

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and President Donald Trump

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and President Donald Trump during the UN General Assembly in 2017. Trump will address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

UNITED NATIONS — Thousands of diplomats, policymakers, scientists and activists will converge in Manhattan on Monday for the UN Climate Action Summit to consider the worldwide threat posed by climate change, a phenomenon that activists stress is having real consequences on Long Island.

The summit, convened by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, is the largest-ever gathering for this purpose — to share action plans to reverse a gradual but accelerating warming of the planet that has already created killer storms, elevated sea levels, altered animals’ habits and habitats and thrown even the seasons of the year out of whack.

Long Island-based environmental activist Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale, has seen the effects in Nassau and Suffolk's receding beaches as well as its flooded streets and homes left in tatters by superstorm Sandy, whose strength scientists say was the result of a warmer Atlantic Ocean.

“Long Island is on the forefront of climate change impact,” Esposito said as she traveled to an informational session in Brookhaven on the prospects for offshore wind energy projects while offering advice for the attendees of the UN summit. “My hope is that the participants realize we’re in a climate crisis not for the future but rather for today, and we need action now. We’re not going to avoid all of the climate change effects, but we can mitigate future ones if we act now.”

Storms like Sandy, which slammed Long Island in 2012 and caused billions of dollars in damage, and last month’s Hurricane Dorian, which Guterres called a “Category Hell” hurricane, are striking examples of the need to act now, leaders said.

“Our overarching goal is to raise ambition and get the world on track to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Guterres said recently, explaining why the UN Climate Action Summit was convened. “Last year’s special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels will require rapid and far-reaching transitions in how we manage land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities.”

The summit is an attempt to assess how well the world’s countries are meeting the objectives of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the landmark global pact that set the goal to reduce the world’s average temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030.

While the United States is the host country for the UN conference and played a role in drafting the Paris accord, President Donald Trump's administration has been less concerned about climate change, which he once famously described as a "hoax." 

Trump has since said he believes climate change is real but that he isn't sure it's "man-made." He has taken steps to withdraw the country from the Paris accord that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had championed as one of his signature accomplishments and a triumph of multilateralism.

Trump's administration has also relaxed environmental protection laws. This week, it announced plans to abolish California's legal authority to set its own standards on automobile emissions, with Trump saying his plans would produce less expensive and safer cars for consumers. And he and other Republicans have maligned as unrealistic and overpriced the so-called Green New Deal legislation — touted primarily by activists and progressive legislators who would like to tackle climate change by creating jobs in industries that would help clean up the environment, such as solar and wind power businesses.  

Scientists have reached a consensus that, when burned, fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas create a “greenhouse effect” by trapping heat near the earth’s surface. The summit is a chance for the best minds on the planet to begin brainstorming, to share ideas to reverse, or at least slow, the march toward a hotter planet.

Though the week will be packed with other forums, the summit will likely be the biggest event on the world stage. Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, 16, who traveled to the United States from Europe in a sailboat to avoid burning fuel to get to the conference, will speak alongside experts and other activists.

The climate talks precede the UN General Assembly’s General Debate, which starts Tuesday and ends the following Monday, an annual weeklong marathon of speeches by heads of government and heads of state of the UN’s 193 members.

Trump is scheduled to speak on Tuesday, and his address will be followed by leaders of the country’s allies, such as the United Kingdom and France, as well as adversaries such as Iran and Syria.

LIU Post geography professor Scott Carlin, who last month attended a UN conference in Utah that addressed some of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including ones addressing climate change, said the climate summit in New York was focused on delivering results before it was too late.

“Secretary-General Guterres doesn’t want to see lofty speeches,” Carlin said. “He doesn’t want to hear about how important this issue is. He wants specific concrete proposals for how the Paris Climate Agreement can be implemented at a more aggressive pace.”

Four key events

Monday: The High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage "will launch new efforts to provide access for all to affordable, inclusive and resilient health systems."

Tuesday-Wednesday: The Sustainable Development Goals Summit "will allow world leaders and other stakeholders to demonstrate how they intend to accelerate action to transform our societies and economies, as we move toward the five-year anniversary of the Goals, with just over a decade left to the target date of 2030."

Thursday: The High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development seeks financing and "investments that are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals."

Friday: The High-Level Midterm Review of the Samoa Pathway is a conference designed to assist vulnerable small island states who "face a unique set of issues relating to their small size, remoteness, narrow resource and export base, and exposure to external economic shocks and global environmental challenges, including the impacts of climate change."

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