Choose hope or climate surrender, says UN chief

Antonio Guterrs warns the COP25 conference of ‘point of no return’

Photo: AP UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Spain's caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pose for a photo at the COP25 climate talks summit in Madrid, 2 December.

Confronted with a climate crisis threatening civilisation itself, humanity must choose between hope and surrender, UN chief Antonio Guterres told the opening plenary of the UN COP25 climate conference. He urged countries Monday not to give up in the fight against climate change, as representatives from nearly 200 countries gathered in Madrid for a two-week meeting on tackling global warming.

In his opening speech to delegates, Guterres cited recent scientific data showing, including new figures released Tuesday by the World Meterological Organisation (WMO), that levels of heat-trapping gases have hit a record high, reaching levels not seen for at least 3 million years when sea levels were 10-20 meters higher than today.

"One is the path of surrender, where we have sleepwalked past the point of no return, jeopardising the health and safety of everyone on this planet," Guterres said. "Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?The last time there was a comparable concentration," Guterres said, "the temperature was two to three degrees Celsius warmer, and sea levels were 10 to 20 metres higher than today."

The 2015 Paris Agreement calls for capping global warming at "well under" 2C, and 1.5C if possible. A major UN science report reset the threshold for a climate-safe world from 2C to 1.5C.

"Permafrost in the Arctic is thawing 70 years ahead of projections," Guterres continued. "Antarctica is melting three times as fast as a decade ago. Ocean levels are rising quicker than expected. More than two-thirds of the world’s megacities are located by the sea. "

More than 150 million people will find themselves in coastal flood zones by 2050, according to recent research. To prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees, the global economy must be carbon neutral by mid-century, a landmark UN report said last year.

"The best available science, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us today that going beyond that (1.5C) would lead us to catastrophic disaster," Guterres said.

Unless emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are sharply cut, temperatures could rise to twice the threshold set in the 2015 Paris accord by the end of the century, he warned.

“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?” Guterres asked.

His appeal came after Chile’s environment minister, Carolina Schmidt, said the 2-13 December meeting needs to lay the groundwork for moving toward carbon-neutral economies while being sensitive to the poorest and those most vulnerable to rising temperatures - something that policymakers have termed “just transition.”

“Those who don’t want to see it will be on the wrong side of history,” said Schmidt, who is chairing the meeting. She called on governments to make more ambitious pledges to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases ahead of a deadline to do so next year.

The summit, which moved to the Spanish capital after Chile had to pull out amid anti-government protests, aims to put the finishing touches to the rules governing the 2015 Paris accord.

That involves creating a functioning international emissions-trading system and compensating poor countries for losses they suffer from rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change.

“We have a common challenge but with differentiated needs and urgencies, which we can only overcome if we work together,” said Schmidt.

Organizers expect around 29,000 visitors at the meeting, including around 50 heads of state and government for Monday’s opening session.

Except for the European Union’s newly sworn-in leadership, which was due to begin a five-year term by paying a visit to the summit, the rest of the world’s largest carbon emitters — the United States, China and India — are sending ministerial or lower-level officials to the meeting.

The US delegation is led by Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, a senior Department official. That’s because the procedures to quit the Paris accord initiated last month by the administration of President Donald Trump won’t be technically completed until 4 November 2020.

But Democratic members of Congress led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the nation remains committed to the 2015 agreement’s goals.

“We’re still in it,” said Pelosi, adding that climate change poses a threat to public health, the economy and national security.

Similar articles