United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres Photo: EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

Global warming should be top priority

It is the biggest worry for young people in Portugal

Former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres has repeated yet again that the number one priority for humanity should be doing everything possible to limit global warming, but clearly this is not happening.

As Secretary-General of the United Nations, Guterres has overseen five years of research by the world’s leading climate science unit, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which produced its final report last week. The study concluded that, by the middle of the next decade, it may be too late to avoid a cycle of climate-induced disasters that dwarf what’s already happening across the globe.

The chance of evading the most severe impacts of burning fossil fuels is almost out of reach unless radical changes are made – and made immediately, the study warns.

Changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones are strengthening all the time.

Guterres commented: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts.”

A global conference on water, the first such specialist conference in a generation, was also held by the UN last week. It sought to formulate resolutions to increasing droughts and dwindling amounts of unpolluted drinking water caused by global warming. Among the many delegates, only five world leaders showed up.

As we have reported here before, global warming is the biggest worry for young people in Portugal. A survey showed that three-quarters of those surveyed thought the future “frightening” and 56% thought humanity was doomed. But climate change is not a priority for Portuguese school teachers just now. Teachers have been striking all over the country, leaving classes unattended, while demanding better pay.

Money is the number one priority for many people everywhere and it often extends far beyond the understandable desire for comfortable living standards in today’s world. Greed abounds. So does self-importance and violent hatred.

As the UN’s report on its five-year study was being published, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, presidents of two of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses, were meeting to discuss closer cooperation in the war in Ukraine and a possible much bigger war against the West. There were more veiled threats of a nuclear conflict. Global warming and an almighty final conflagration did not seem to be of much interest to these self-styled emperors.

In the United States, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter, the chief concerns are bank insecurity, inflation, interest rates and the cost of living. It’s the same in the United Kingdom. Both are not only increasing their use of fossil fuels but opening new mines to extract more.

Headlines in the American media have also centred far less on global warming than on the hopes of Donald Trump and his millions of loyal supporters that he will be voted for another term as US president, even though he is famously in denial and has described scientific global warming evidence as “false news”.

France is being virtually brought to a standstill by increasingly violent protests, not against inaction against global warming, but the government raising the retirement age by a couple of years to 64. Bad enough in Portugal, you may say; the retirement age has come down from, 66 and seven months last year to 66 and four months this year.

Pensioners are, of course, the old brigade and may not last long enough to witness total disaster as humanity heads down the road to a final calamity. However, the survey mentioned above showed that many people between the ages of 16 and 25 in a number of countries as well as Portugal feel betrayed, ignored and abandoned by their elders, especially politicians, who have failed to properly respond to climate change.

At 73 years of age, António Guterres is an outstanding exception. He is doing his very best to help the young and all other forms of life on the planet to cope in the decades ahead.

In my view, we should do the same.


Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt