Sustainability must be integrated into every aspect of governance and across every level of society, according to two prime ministers during the “Climate in Crisis: Rising Tides” panel at the inaugural Global Citizen NOW thought leadership summit in New York City on May 23.  

Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley and Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, who joined the panel moderated by the legendary science educator Bill Nye, have championed climate action on the global level. They've also each enacted legislation within their own countries to transition their economies away from fossil fuels and environmentally destructive practices.

Trudeau pinned the climate crisis on a form of political engagement that prioritizes short-term profit over long-term well-being. 

“We have to step back from the short-term thinking that got us into this challenge and move beyond it,” he said. “It's not just about taking sustainability into everyday actions, but it's making it part of our thinking — thinking about the broad impacts of everything we do and the deep impacts through the next generation of everything we do.”

Global Citizen NOW featured more than 200 speakers from the public and private spheres, including heads of state, scientists, activists, celebrity advocates, and corporate executives, who discussed the overlapping crises that affect communities around the world — from the climate crisis to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to gender inequity. They also spoke about opportunities that can arise when different sectors work together to achieve the United Nations’ Global Goals. 

A major theme throughout the event was reflected in the title: NOW. Countries have to adopt a much greater sense of urgency to defeat poverty, protect the planet, and empower marginalized communities. 

The world has until the end of the decade to halve greenhouse gas emissions to have any chance of achieving the Paris climate agreement goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.  

Mottley has been a fierce advocate for policies that center climate justice, including redistributive climate financing for low-income countries. In particular, wealthy countries like Canada need to follow through on providing $100 billion in annual climate financing that was promised to help the most vulnerable countries adapt to ongoing environmental impacts and adopt renewable energy. 

Although Trudeau has been a leading voice in negotiations around the Paris climate agreement, the Climate Action Tracker has declared Canada’s current climate policy to be “highly insufficient.” 

During the panel, Mottley called on Trudeau to facilitate technology transfers. 

“In Barbados, I'd like somebody right now to give us some long term-commercial batteries, which are owned by a company in Canada. Justin, can you do it?” she said.

“If you can do it, that's great. I met with them last week and they told me that they can't get any supply until December 2023,” she continued. “I announced a tax holiday for electric vehicles in my country, yet we can't get supply. So let's understand that simply having a movement that does not appreciate supply issues, that does not appreciate the reality of our existence, is not going to get us anywhere.”

Mottley also called out rich countries for failing to redistribute funds associated with Special Drawing Rights at the International Monetary Fund, which could be used to accelerate global climate action and overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Both Trudeau and Mottley agreed that climate action depends on the broad participation of citizens everywhere who must hold their leaders accountable and demand action. The discussion was comfortably guided by Nye, who has become something of an expert in recent years at bringing together diverse groups under the collective mantle of climate action. 

“We're going to work the problem from the bottom up,” he said at the end of the panel. “Then we're going to elect officials who are going to work the problem, these complicated problems, from the top down. And together — it's not called, it's not called Local Citizen. It's not called County Citizen. It's called Global Citizen, because we are all in this together.”


Defend the Planet

'Short-Term Thinking' Got Us Into the Climate Crisis, PM Justin Trudeau Says

By Joe McCarthy