The widow of Nelson Mandela punctured the self-congratulatory mood of the UN summit on Tuesday, saying world leaders had failed to rise to the challenge of climate change.
“There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today,” Graça Machel told the closing moments of the summit. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.”
The gathering of 120 world leaders – the first such meeting on climate change in five years – resulted in a day of impassioned speeches, including a cameo from the actor and UN ambassador Leonardo DiCaprio.
Several of the speeches, including that of Barack Obama, mentioned the 300,000 people who turned out for Sunday’s climate march. “Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them,” the president said.
But, as anticipated, the leaders held back on making new commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions or to give significant climate finance to developing countries, leaving it to business, cities and campaign groups to produce the real action on climate.
The searing critique of the summit carried additional weight because Machel is one of the Elders, global leaders charged with working for peace and human rights.
She spoke only moments after the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, had declared the gathering a success. “We have delivered,” he said.
But Machel said leaders had failed to offer an adequate response to the hundreds of thousands of people who came out in the streets this week to demand action on climate change – and the millions in poor countries who will suffer its effects.
“Can we genuinely say we are going to preserve their lives, and ensure their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren inherit a planet which is safe and sustainable?” she asked.
Machel appealed to world leaders and business executives who descended on the UN on Tuesday to “go back to the drawing board”. She concluded: “The obligation in my view is to step up the ambition.”