UN chief warns of ‘runaway’ climate disaster by 2020

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UNITED NATIONS, Sept 11 (APP):U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned Monday that climate change is moving faster than efforts to combat the phenomenon and that the international community needs to “put the brake” on greenhouse gas emissions, which drive global warming.
“If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change,” Guterres said in a major address at United Nations headquarters in New York on Monday.
“Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment,” he said. “Scientists have been telling us for decades. Over and over again. Far too many leaders have refused to listen.”
“Climate change is moving faster than we are,” the secretary-general added.
His remarks came with countries around the world far short of meeting the goals they set for themselves under the 2015 Paris accord to reduce the emissions that have warmed the planet over the last century. The next round of climate negotiations is scheduled for this year in Poland.
One of the biggest tests at those talks, which start on December 3 in Katowice, will be whether countries, especially industrialized countries that produce a large share of global emissions, will set higher targets for reducing them.
“The time has come for our leaders to show they care about the people whose fate they hold in their hands,” Guterres said. “We need to rapidly shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels.”
The pledge made by world leaders in the Paris Agreement three years ago to stop temperature rising by less than 2-degree-Celsius and working to keep the increase as close as possible to 1.5-degree-Celsius, “were really the bare minimum to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” he said.
“The mountain in front of us is very high but it is not insurmountable. We know how to scale it,” he continued.
“Put simply, we need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action,” he added, calling for a shift away from the dependency on fossil fuels towards cleaner energy and away from deforestation to more efficient use of resources.
“I have heard the argument“ usually from vested interests“ that tackling climate change is expensive and could harm economic growth. This is hogwash. In fact, the opposite is true,” he stressed.
In his message, Guterres highlighted the huge economic costs of climate change and the opportunities presented by climate action.
“Climate action and socio-economic progress are mutually supportive, with gains of 26 trillion dollars predicted by 2030 compared with business as usual, if we pursue the right path,” he said, citing the findings of the recent Climate Economy report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate Change.
The benefits transcend monetary figures.
“Climate-resilient water supply and sanitation could save the lives of more than 360,000 infants every year, clean air has vast benefits for public health [and] in China and the United States, new renewable energy jobs now outstrip those created in the oil and gas industries,” explained Guterres, noting several examples from across the world of climate action resulting in enormous benefits for countries and communities.
Underscoring that important strides are being made, the UN chief highlighted the imperative to speed up these transitions.
Looking ahead, the UN chief emphasized that he would be reiterating this message at the General Assembly’s high level segment later in the month as well as at other key events, including the G7 and G20 meetings of world leaders; and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings.
“The time has come for our leaders to show they care about the people whose fate they hold in their hands. We need them to show they care about the future,” he stressed.
Guterres further announced that in September 2019, he will convene a Climate Summit to bring climate action to the top of the international agenda and unveiled the appointment of Luis Alfonso de Alba, a former Mexican diplomat, as his Special Envoy to lead its preparations.
The Summit, he said, will focus on the heart of the problem“ the sectors that create the most emissions and the areas where building resilience could make the biggest difference“ as well as provide leaders and partners the opportunity to demonstrate real climate action and showcase their ambition.
“I am calling on all leaders to come to next year’s Climate Summit prepared to report not only on what they are doing, but what more they intend to do when they convene in 2020 for the UN climate conference and where commitments will be renewed and surely ambitiously increased,” he said.
In the same vein, the Secretary-General called on civil society and young people to push the agenda of climate action.
“There is no more time to waste. We are careering towards the edge of the abyss,” warned Guterres, adding that though it is not too late to shift course, “every day that passes means the world heats up a little more and the cost of our inaction mounts.”
“Every day we fail to act is a day that we step a little closer towards a fate that none of us wants a fate that will resonate through generations in the damage done to humankind and life on earth.”