UN chief urges action to avert climate change ‘catastrophe’

Antonio Guterres says climate disruption progressing ‘faster than the world’s top scientists have predicted’

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (C-L), at a panel during the opening of the Abu Dhabi climate meeting summit on June 30, 2019, in Abu Dhabi. (KARIM SAHIB / AFP)
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (C-L), at a panel during the opening of the Abu Dhabi climate meeting summit on June 30, 2019, in Abu Dhabi. (KARIM SAHIB / AFP)

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AFP) – UN chief Antonio Guterres said climate-related devastation was striking the planet on a weekly basis and warned Sunday that urgent action must be taken to avoid a catastrophe.

“We are here because the world is facing a grave climate emergency,” Guterres told a two-day Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting to prepare for a Climate Action Summit in New York in September.

Guterres said destructive climate change was moving at an increasingly fast pace.

“Climate disruption is happening now… It is progressing even faster than the world’s top scientists have predicted,” the UN secretary general said.

A firefighter sprays water on the participants of the annual Gay Pride parade on June 29, 2019, in Paris as a heat wave hit the French capital. (Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

“It is outpacing our efforts to address it. Climate change is running faster than we are,” he said.

“Every week brings new climate-related devastation… floods, drought, heatwaves, wildfires and super storms,” Guterres said.

He warned the situation would only deteriorate unless “we act now with ambition and urgency,” but some of the world’s decision-makers still did not realize the dangers.

The meeting in Abu Dhabi, with government and civil society participants from dozens of countries, will select from 100 proposals for protecting the climate, said UN special envoy Luis Alfonso de Alba.

“I think what is important is to identify those proposals that have transformation impact,” De Alba told AFP.

The selected proposals will be submitted to the summit in New York, he said.

The UN chief held out hope that the Paris Agreement could cut harmful emissions and reduce global warming.

“But we know that even if the promises of Paris are fully met, we still face at least a three-degree temperature rise by the end of the century — a catastrophe for life as we know it,” Guterres said.

He was convening the Climate Action Summit because many countries were not even keeping pace with their promises under the Paris Agreement.

Climate change activists hold placards as demonstrators continue to block the road at Oxford Circus in London on April 20, 2019. (Niklas HALLE’N / AFP)

Mobilize private capital

Under the Paris Agreement, the world is required to keep temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

France’s secretary of state for ecological and inclusive transition, Brune Poirson, taking part in the Abu Dhabi meeting, called for “mobilizing private financing,” to fund climate programs and actions.

“What we have to do is mobilize more private capital and instead of having private money invested in coal projects… it should be invested in renewable energy,” she told AFP.

She called on developed countries to fulfill their pledge under the Paris Agreement to transfer $100 billion to developing nations.

Protesters hold up signs during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2017, objecting to US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate accord.(AFP/Paul J. Richards)

A landmark report last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said a safer cap of a 1.5 degree rise would see nations rapidly slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions via a sharp drawdown of fossil fuel use.

But some high-polluting nations, led by Saudi Arabia, have questioned the IPCC’s findings, leading to angry exchanges at closed-door talks in Bonn.

The IPCC warned in October that warming was on track towards a catastrophic 3C or 4C rise, and that avoiding global chaos would require a major transformation.

In his speech, the UN secretary general also called for governments to “stop subsidizing fossil fuels… (and) stop building new coal plants by 2020.”

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