Planet on the verge of climate abyss, UN chief warns

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Climate commitments must be translated into immediate action, says UN secretary general.

World leaders need to act now and put the planet on a green path because “we are at the verge of the abyss”, UN secretary-general António Guterres said on 22 April in his address to the virtual climate summit convened by US president Joe Biden.

“Mother Nature is not waiting”, the UN chief warned, as the past decade was the hottest on record, and the world continues to see rising sea-levels, scorching temperatures, devastating tropical cyclones and epic wildfires. “We need a green planet — but the world is on red alert,” said Guterres who claimed that the planet was “at the verge of the abyss”. “We must make sure the next step is in the right direction. Leaders everywhere must take action,” he warned.

Guterres thanked president Biden for hosting the two-day Leaders Summit on Climate and applauded US commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions. In his introductory remarks at the summit, president Biden announced that the country would slash emissions in half, by 2030.

Speaking about the “extraordinary job creation and economic opportunity” that climate response provides, proposing investments in sectors such as energy, transportation, construction and farming, Biden acknowledged that no nation can solve the climate emergency alone and he called for leaders of the world’s largest economies to step up in the race to a sustainable future. “Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade. This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” said Biden.

Guterres used the summit to amplify his call for a global coalition to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and for countries to ramp up their commitments under the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change. “All countries, starting with major emitters, should submit new and more ambitious nationally determined contributions for mitigation, adaptation and finance, laying out actions and policies for the next ten years aligned with a 2050 net-zero pathway”, he said.

Guterres said that the commitments must be translated into concrete, immediate action, as it is estimated that less than a quarter of pandemic recovery spending will go towards mitigating emissions, reducing air pollution or strengthening natural capital. “The trillions of dollars needed for Covid-19 recovery is money we are borrowing from future generations,” Guterres said. “We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden them with a mountain of debt on a broken planet.”

The UN chief also appealed for world leaders to “put a price on carbon” through taxation. He called for ending subsidies for fossil fuels and instead, ramping up investment in renewable energy and green infrastructure. “Stop the financing of coal and the building of new coal power plants. Phase out coal by 2030 in the wealthiest countries and by 2040 everywhere else.  Ensure a just transition for affected people and communities”, said Guterres.