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Editorial: Time for world leaders to respond to young people’s climate change concerns

World leaders must earnestly listen to the message delivered by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.

The Swedish high school student bitterly criticized countries for failing to take sufficient measures to address climate change.


“How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight,” she said, tearfully. “You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that, because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil.”


Greta began to protest against climate change by herself in August last year. Calling for more action from the Swedish government, she began sit-ins in front of the country’s parliament on Fridays, calling for strengthened measures from the Swedish government. Young people began to join in, and school strikes started around the world. On Sept. 20, shortly before the summit took place, at least 4 million people across the world are said to have taken part.


Behind this wide support is the fact that the effects of climate change have reached a level that cannot be ignored. Greta herself was prompted to take action by a record heat wave that hit Northern Europe. In approaching the issue, she is said to have referred to the methods used by young people in the United States calling for gun control measures.


During her speech at the Climate Action Summit, Greta criticized world leaders as focusing solely on “money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” She pointed out that people had to live with the consequences of failed measures to combat climate change. Young people today have a far greater sense of crisis than adult generations who will not witness the catastrophic effects of climate change.


Global temperatures are increasing. The Paris Agreement, an international framework to counter climate change, calls for efforts to limit the increase in global average temperatures by the end of this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial revolution levels by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve this, participating countries must reduce emissions by five times what their current targets are.


Across the world, however, countries are not aligned on the issue. U.S. President Donald Trump, for example has expressed skepticism about climate change itself and announced his country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.


Ahead of the summit, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries to come up with concrete action, not just speeches.


Can Japan share in such sentiment? It has been criticized by countries across the world for relying on coal-fired power plants to supply its energy. Around 70 world leaders attended the Climate Action Summit, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not one of them.


No one objects to passing on a healthy world to future generations. But to achieve this, the question of what action is being taken arises. Adults have a responsibility to respond to the petitions of young people.

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