NEW YORK—Two days before a United Nations summit on climate change, thousands of people marched in cities around the world Sunday to urge their leaders to act boldly to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving the changes.
The “People’s Climate March” was convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which took over much of Manhattan for several hours Sunday as more than 120 heads of state began gathering in New York City for the Tuesday summit.
Ban, who joined in the New York demonstration, is urging heads of state to take concrete steps to switch to cleaner sources of energy, prevent deforestation, and help vulnerable countries protect themselves from the damaging effects of climate change: persistent droughts, violent storms, forest fires, and sea-level rise.
“We think that the world’s leaders have done a bad job of dealing with climate change, so we figured we ought to come too,” said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, the group that organized the rallies of some 2,000 demonstrations, staged in 150 countries on Sunday, including in major cities such as London, Rio de Janeiro, Lagos, and Bogotá.
At the outset of the march in New York City, organizers said the crowd stretched along Central Park West from 60th Street all the way to 93rd Street. People gathered in groups, including those designated for young people, physicians, Native Americans, scientists, domestic workers, immigrants, religious groups and students from 320 colleges and universities.
The march and UN summit come as the nations of the world are negotiating a new strategy to manage climate change, when countries that are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meet in Paris.
Their new agreement is expected to be completed in December 2015.
European, African, and small island nations want the countries of the world to agree to a treaty to make deep, mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to match what scientists say is necessary to avoid dangerous disruptions to the climate such as melting ice sheets, rising sea levels, and desertification.
The United States, the second-leading source of greenhouse gas emissions behind China, is a major obstacle to a treaty. The U.S. did not participate in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the last international climate treaty. And if the world embraced a new binding treaty, most Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate would surely oppose it.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and who joined the march in New York, said Republicans limit what President Barack Obama can do. “The only way we make change is by doing exactly what we are doing today—taking to the streets,” Sanders said.
Proponents of a tough, mandatory treaty hope Sunday’s global demonstrations will encourage the presidents and prime ministers gathering in New York to make the major transformations necessary to shift away from coal, petroleum, and other fossil fuels.