United Nations — World leaders pledged to do more to combat climate change Monday at a United Nations summit, but they were reprimanded by teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who accused them of “empty words.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the audience at the one-day summit that his country would increase renewable-energy capacity, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently unveiled new climate policies, said her country aimed to become carbon neutral by midcentury and phase out coal by 2038.
“We believe that an ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching,” said Mr. Modi, who was among the leaders of more than 60 countries, as well as businesses and local and regional governments, scheduled to outline measures they are taking to combat climate change.
But Ms. Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who recently raised awareness about reducing carbon footprints by sailing across the Atlantic in a racing yacht, said world leaders weren’t doing enough.
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“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I am one of the lucky ones,” she said at the summit. “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.”
The summit, which followed youth climate strikes across the globe Friday, sought to generate momentum around meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris accord. The pact seeks to limit global temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
The U.S., which has vowed to leave the climate pact, wasn’t scheduled to take the stage Monday, but President Trump attended presentations by Mr. Modi and Ms. Merkel before leaving to speak at a separate U.N. event about religious freedom.
About a mile away from the U.N. on Monday afternoon, the chief executives of the world’s largest oil companies discussed how they can work to address climate change, a growing concern among investors, even as they seek to satisfy rising energy demand.
The companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP PLC, said that they are on track to collectively cut average emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to less than 0.25% of gas sold by 2025.
“Very soon, nobody’s going to be able to hide methane leakage,” BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley said, discussing advances in technology such as drones that detect methane releases.
Chevron Chief Executive Mike Wirth said natural gas would be essential to building out renewable-energy systems. “The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine,” he said.
Some environmentalists attending the oil-industry event said the companies needed to do more to persuade skeptics they were serious. Mark Brownstein, senior vice president of energy at the Environmental Defence Fund, said that if he were grading the companies, he would give them an “A for effort, but incomplete.”
Earlier, at the U.N., Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said his country remained ahead of schedule in meeting its emissions-reduction targets. As of last year, China’s carbon intensity, or releases per unit of gross domestic product, had fallen roughly 46% from 2005 levels, he said. The country, which is the world’s top coal producer, had pledged to curb those emissions by 40% to 45% by 2020.
“The withdrawal of certain parties will not shake the collective will of the international community,” said Mr. Yi, who didn’t specifically reference the U.S.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has said he limited speakers to those with positive announcements to make about combating climate change.
The average global temperature already is 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to World Meteorological Organization estimates.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he was struck by the appeals of Ms. Thunberg and other young activists.
“No political decision maker can remain deaf at this call for justice between generations,” he said, noting his support for reaching carbon neutrality by midcentury.
The European Union had hoped to marshal support from all 28 member states for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, a top U.N. objective, but has yet to reach consensus.
The U.N. invited several local and regional officials tackling climate change around the world, to demonstrate that action is happening at all levels. They included Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat who recently signed a bill into law targeting an 80% reduction in the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.
“It is my obligation—our obligation—to do everything to stop the climate crisis before it stops us,” Mr. Guterres said. “Time is running out. But it is not too late.”