First Avenue was a sea of blue suits, black Suburbans and countless officers from multiple security agencies Tuesday as the United Nations representatives met to discuss climate change.
The avenue, closed to pedestrians and traffic, was quiet for New York, and quiet for this city for the past few days, when hundreds of thousands of climate activists marched, calling for the UN to take the steps to save the planet.
Inside the checkpoint, the crowd was subdued. Official. Chic. The sun was barely up and a line of grumbling reporters wrapped past 47th Street, smoking, sipping coffee, wheeling camera gear, speaking too many languages to keep track of. Likely wondering if they’d make it through security before the opening remarks.
Once inside, everyone scattered. The UN hallways seemed cavernous to me, winding, puzzling, familiar to everyone else. Inside a media briefing room, hundreds of reporters filed stories, listened to proceedings, sucked up caffeinated coffee, leaving only decaf in their wake.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was one of the summit’s opening speakers, and called climate change an “existential threat” to “humanity.”
“The cause is us — how we heat our homes, how we transport ourselves, the reckless way in which we live. This is an issue we all face. No one is spared. And our mutual need to survive should instill in us a kind of unity we so rarely experience,’ de Blasio said.
The mayor said the need for action in New York is “particularly urgent” because of Hurricane Sandy’s 2012 damage, and touted his recent pledge that the city will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Later, at a press briefing, de Blasio said Sunday’s People’s Climate March in New York, and solidarity marches around the globe, showed the world is “reaching a critical-mass moment on this issue in terms of public opinion.”
Throughout the day, elected leaders from around the world spoke briefly in the United Nations General Assembly Hall, many speaking on how climate change is impacting their country, and their plans to combat it.
“We must save our planet from warming, and the time to act is now,” said Korean President Park Guen-hye, who said her country is “seeking a creative economy” to deal with climate change. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said his country is working to restore the forest to make it 10 percent of the total land mass of Kenya.
More intimate briefings were held in conference rooms around the UN. The mayors of Bonn (Germany), Johannesburg and Istanbul announced the World Mayors Council on Climate Changes’ new carbon climate registry. The effort was started in Mexico City in 2010, said vice chair and Bonn Mayor Jurgen Nimptsch, and a “measurable, reportable, verifiable”way to track climate initiatives.
There are already 400 cities voluntarily reporting their climate actions to the carbon registry, Nimptsch said, making up 12 percent of the world’s urban population.
Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş said his city has 15 million people, and works to safely dispose of 15,000 tons of garbage a day. One way is by planting millions of tulip bulbs every year, and “collaborating” with city residents to brainstorm other environmentally friendly projects.
Transparency was also a main topic at the UN private sector forum, where business leaders, including Helge Lund of Statoil, a Norwegian oil and gas company, called for a standard price on carbon.
“Our industry is part of the solution, a very important part of the solution, and we should also be part of the debate,” Lund said.