United Nations chief gives bleak outlook on climate change: ‘This is suicidal’

Justin Rowlatt

Justin Rowlatt

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held the first telephone conversations with US President-elect Joe Biden on November 30.

In a speech titled the State of the Planet, Antonio Guterres said there was a moral and economic case for giving more support to developing countries to deal with climate change impacts, rather than focusing investment mostly on cutting emissions.

The global temperature in 2020 is on track to end about 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than the end of 1800s, dangerously close to the 2-degree Celsius cap scientists have warned against hitting before conditions in much of the world become unlivable, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization.

"Humanity is waging war on nature", Guterres said.

"With news of multiple vaccines on the cusp of approval, and with trillions of dollars flowing into global recovery efforts, the worldwide community has a unique opportunity to do this right", he said. Ecology is disappearing before our eyes ...

"Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are the new normal", he will warn.

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"Human activities are at the root of our descent towards chaos", Guterres said.

"They discussed the need for a strengthened partnership between the United States and the United Nations on urgent global issues, including combatting COVID-19 and building resilience to future public health challenges, confronting the threat of climate change, addressing humanitarian need, advancing sustainable development, upholding peace and security and resolving conflicts; and promoting democracy and human rights", the readout issued by the Biden-Harris Transition team said.

The US formally withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change last month. In recent weeks, the world has seen ferocious wildfires in the US West, torrential rains in Africa, odd warm temperatures on the surface of tropical oceans, and record heat waves from California to the Siberian Arctic. It also means 2020 will go down as one of the three hottest years on record.

He added that investors and governments must seize the opportunity to "flick the green switch" when there was still time, he said. The Paris climate accord set a goal of not exceeding 1.5-degree (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warming since pre-industrial times. "The United Nations must lead on this".

The push will echo the United Nations -backed "race to zero" campaign to rally governments, companies and other organisations to cut their planet-heating emissions to net-zero by 2050 or earlier.

Far more money, continued the secretary-general, needs to be invested in adapting to the changing climate, which is hindering the UN's work on disaster risk reduction. "And when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction", the United Nations chief said.

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