UN secretary-general António Guterres has delivered a searing assessment of the international response to climate change, stressing that its threat is “much bigger than the threat of pandemic”.
At a moment when scientists have stressed that Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheet melting “is perfectly in line with worse case scenarios”, the former Socialist prime minister of Portugal has told reporters that either world powers “pull together and retool economies for a green future” or humanity is” doomed”.
Before Covid-19, 2020 was billed as a pivotal year for a united plan to “dodge the bullet of catastrophic global warming”, explains Agence-France Presse (AFP).
High profile summits were “planned to catch a wave of public alarm over the future of the planet”.
But then the virus struck, and climate change was suddenly “shunted into the sidelines”.
Meantime “the expectations that we have in relation to the next five years about storms, about drought and about other dramatic impacts in the living conditions of many people around the world are absolutely terrible”, said Guterres, exhorting world governments to use the Covid crisis “as a springboard to launch transformational policies aimed at weaning societies off fossil fuels”.
He lambasted the “failure shown in the capacity to contain the spread of the virus” due to a lack of international coordination – and said this failure “must make countries understand that they need to change course”
“They need to act together in relation to the climate threat that is a much bigger threat than the threat of the pandemic in itself – it’s an existential threat for our planet and for our lives.”
His comments came as the landmark Paris climate deal comes into effect to cap temperature increases to ‘well below’ 2ºC of pre-industrial levels.
Says AFP: “The accord was already on a knife edge before the pandemic”. President Trump “shocked the world” in 2017 when he said he was pulling the United States out of the deal – and this is due to happen on November 4 “just after the presidential elections”.
Commitment to the deal by other ‘major polluting nations’ is also very much in doubt.
Speaking ahead of a multi-agency climate due to be published tomorrow, Guterres stressed that much now rests on the actions of major emitters.
“We have never been as fragile as we are, we never needed as much humility, unity and solidarity as now. Either we are united, or we will be doomed”, he said.
Climate change warnings are no longer predictions of a distant future, says AFP
Earth’s average surface temperature has gone up by one degree Celsius since the 19th century, enough to increase the intensity of droughts, heat waves and tropical cyclones.
Burning fossil fuels has been by far the main driver of rising temperatures, with concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere now at their highest levels in around three million years.
The last five years were the five hottest on record.
According to the UN, it is still possible to reach a safer goal of a 1.5 degrees Celsius cap in temperature rise, but to get there global emissions must fall 7.6 per cent annually this decade.
While the shutdowns implemented during the pandemic could reduce global emissions by up to 8 per cent in 2020, scientists have warned that without systemic change in how the world powers and feeds itself, the drop would be essentially meaningless.
“A DIFFERENT WORLD”
There are also concerns that massive Covid-19 stimulus packages being devised by governments could provide a crutch to polluting industries.
Guterres has urged Japan, India and China to drop their continued reliance on coal.
China – the world’s biggest polluter – has invested heavily in renewable energy, but it has also reportedly stepped up coal production.
The UN head said he was hopeful the EU would make good on its green commitments after it announced its 750-billion-euro (US$885 billion) stimulus plan that aims in part to reach carbon neutrality targets.
He said the pandemic had demonstrated society’s capacity to adapt to transformation.
“I don’t want to go back to a world where biodiversity is being put into question, to a world where fossil fuels receive more subsidies than renewables, or to a world in which we see inequalities making societies with less and less cohesion and creating instability, creating anger, creating frustration,” he added.
“I think we need to have a different world, a different normal and we have an opportunity to do so.”