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Mass mobilization to accompany UN Climate Summit

On August 28th, more than 30 people gathered in Times Square to promote the People's Climate March with illuminated signs. Photo courtesy of NYC Light Brigade, 2014

On August 28th, more than 30 people gathered in Times Square to promote the People’s Climate March with illuminated signs. Photo courtesy of NYC Light Brigade, 2014

On Tuesday, a United Nations Climate Summit convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will bring officials from 162 countries—including more than 100 heads of state—to New York City to discuss actions to slow global warming. Thanks to the efforts of a cadre of activists and organizers, though, the event might just be overshadowed by a mass mobilization that precedes it by two days.

The mobilization is an international effort that will result in thousands of coordinated rallies, marches, and demonstrations around the world. But the largest of these—by far—will be the People’s Climate March in New York City, which is expected to be the largest climate march ever held. Solidarity marches will also take place in cities including London, UK; Lagos, Nigeria; Melbourne, Australia; and Paris, France.

Over 1,200 groups have publicly endorsed the March, and while organizers won’t disclose internal estimates of the event’s size, optimistic estimates have speculated that it could draw as many as half a million participants.

Participants should soon start flowing into New York City for the event. At last count, more than 400 chartered buses will be transporting people from locations as diverse as Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; and even Montreal, Canada.

Activists have also organized a “People’s Climate Train,” which departed Monday from San Francisco, California and will arrive in New York City on Friday night. Along the route of the train, riders will be treated to a series of informational lectures and discussions led by lauded climate change authorities like professor Howard Ehrman and architect, author, and urban planner Carl Anthony.

The mobilization is also being billed as a turning point for the environmental movement—which has been criticized for being largely white and largely affluent. More than 20 labor unions are leading the planning efforts. Meanwhile, faith, housing, women’s rights, and social justice organizations are also spearheading efforts to turn out members for the march.

For this reason, some commentators are claiming that at the People’s Climate March most of the people will not be “pale, male, and stale.”

The March will begin at Columbus Circle in New York City on Sunday, September 21st, and its route will pass through Times Square before concluding on 11th Street.

On the Monday after the March, Climate Week NYC will kick off, with the UN Summit, occurring Tuesday, as its centerpiece. The Summit is especially notable because of its attendees, who will primarily be heads of state like US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

The Summit represents the first time heads of state have formally gathered to discuss climate change since the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, which failed to result in a binding international climate treaty.

While some of the attendees will be the same, the Summit in New York is distinct from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process that administrates negotiations like those in Copenhagen and the upcoming conference in Lima, Peru.

Instead, Ban Ki-moon’s summit will be an opportunity for world leaders to initiate a conversation on climate change that will build momentum for the 2015 Paris talks.

The event will also be an occasion for governments to make important climate announcements. President Obama may announce new additions to his Climate Action Plan, while the World Wildlife Fund says that two nations will unveil important new commitments to the Green Climate Fund.

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