“We are digging our own graves,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres opened with a hard-hitting address at the COP26 World Leaders Summit. Citing the past six years since the Paris Climate Agreement as the six hottest years on record, he lamented the need to cut back and reconsider our choices while relying on non-renewable sources of energy.
“Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink. We face a stark choice: Either we stop it — or it stops us. It’s time to say: enough. Enough of brutalizing biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature as a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. Our planet is changing before our eyes — from the ocean depths to mountain tops; from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events.
Shocking bits of climate change have been made visible in the last decade and more. Sea-level rise is double the rate it was 30 years ago. Oceans are hotter than ever — and getting warmer faster. Parts of the Amazon Rainforest now emit more carbon than they absorb.
“We are not on track!”
Guterres mentioned that while recent climate action announcements might give the impression that we are on track to turn things around, this was just an illusion. The last published report on Nationally Determined Contributions showed that they would still condemn the world to a calamitous 2.7-degree increase. Several countries have put their recent pledges on the radar in the run-up to COP26 being held this year at Glasgow. And even if the recent pledges were clear and credible — and there are serious questions about some of them — we are still careening towards climate catastrophe. Even in the best-case scenario, temperatures will rise well above two degrees.
Commenting on the predicament of developing nations, he went on to observe, “So, as we open this much-anticipated climate conference, we are still heading for climate disaster. Young people know it. Every country sees it. Small Island Developing States — and other vulnerable ones — live it. For them, failure is not an option. Failure is a death sentence.
The moment of truth
“We are fast approaching tipping points that will trigger escalating feedback loops of global heating. But investing in the net-zero, climate-resilient economy will create feedback loops of its own — virtuous circles of sustainable growth, jobs, and opportunity. We have progress to build upon. A number of countries have made credible commitments to net-zero emissions by mid-century. Many have pulled the plug on international financing of coal. Over 700 cities are leading the way to carbon neutrality. The private sector is waking up. The Net-Zero Asset Owners Alliance — the gold standard for credible commitments and transparent targets — is managing $10 trillion in assets and catalyzing change across industries, “ he said.
Young people matter
Acknowledging the role young people play in putting an end to this nose-dive, he said, “The climate action army — led by young people — is unstoppable. They are larger. They are louder. And, I assure you, they are not going away. I stand with them.”
Three steps that can help us act now
Guterres laid down a three-pointer route towards climate action and said, “First, we must keep the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius alive. This requires greater ambition on mitigation and immediate concrete action to reduce global emissions by 45 percent by 2030. G20 countries have a particular responsibility as they represent around 80 percent of emissions. According to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities in light of national circumstances, developed countries must lead the effort. But emerging economies, too, must go the extra mile, as their contribution is essential for the effective reduction of emissions.”
The second step he went on to iterate, “Second, we must do more to protect vulnerable communities from the clear and present dangers of climate change. Over the last decade, nearly 4 billion people suffered climate-related disasters. That devastation will only grow. But Adaptation works. Early warning systems save lives. Climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure save jobs. All donors must allocate half their climate finance to adaptation. And public and multilateral development banks should start as soon as possible.
And the third step was a clear route to public climate finance he noted, “Third, this COP must be a moment of solidarity. The $100 billion a year climate finance commitment in support of developing countries must become a $100 billion climate finance reality. This is critical to restoring trust and credibility. But beyond the $100 billion, developing countries need far greater resources to fight COVID-19, build resilience and pursue sustainable development. Those suffering the most – namely, Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States – need urgent funding. More public climate finance. More overseas development aid. More grants. Easier access to funding. And multilateral development banks must work much more seriously at mobilizing greater investment through blended and private finance.”
“Climate action tops the list of people’s concerns, across countries, age, and gender. We must listen — and we must act — and we must choose wisely. On behalf of this and future generations, I urge you: Choose ambition. Choose solidarity. Choose to safeguard our future and save humanity,” he reiterated as he closed his address.
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