United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is photographed at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland on November 11, 2021.
Jeff J. Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images
The United Nations Secretary-General issued a stark warning on Monday, saying the planet originated from COP26 last year Summit in Glasgow with “some naive optimism” and it was “Walk Asleep to Climate Catastrophe”.
In notes delivered to The Economist’s Sustainability Week via video link, Antonio Guterres paints a picture of where he feels the world stands when it comes to tackling global warming.
He noted that while COP 26 has seen positive developments related to issues such as reducing methane emissions, tackling deforestation and mobilizing private financing, significant challenges remain.
“Keeping 1.5 alive requires a 45% reduction in global emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by mid-century,” he said. “This problem has not been resolved in Glasgow. In fact, the problem is getting worse.”
Guterres’ reference to 1.5 relates to The goal of the Paris Agreement To limit global warming “to well below 2, preferably 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels.”
The Paris Agreement was reached at the COP21 Climate Change Summit in December 2015. More than six years later, it appears that for Guterres, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
“According to current national commitments, global emissions are set to increase by approximately 14% in the 2020s,” he said. “In the last year alone, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased 6% to their highest levels in history. Coal emissions are at record levels. We are sleepwalking toward climate catastrophe.”
Regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the wide-ranging effects it could have, Guterres offered an equally stark assessment. “The repercussions of the Russian war in Ukraine threaten the volatility of global food and energy markets, with major implications for the global climate agenda,” he said.
“While major economies are pursuing an ‘all of the above’ strategy to replace Russian fossil fuels, short-term actions may lead to long-term dependence on fossil fuels and close the window at 1.5 degrees.”
“Countries can become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they ignore or ignore policies to reduce fossil fuel use. And that’s crazy: addiction to fossil fuels is a mutually assured destruction.”
Guterres’ comments come at a time when many major economies, including the European Union, are trying to find ways to reduce their dependence on Russian hydrocarbons.
The International Energy Agency last week Speed limits on highways should be lowered by at least 10 kilometers per hour (6.2 mph) to help reduce oil demand. The recommendation was part of a broader 10-point plan published by the Paris-based organization.
In his speech on Monday, Guterres also said that “those in the private sector who are still financing coal must … be held accountable.”
“Their support for coal will not only cost the world its climate goals,” he said. “It’s a stupid investment – it leads to assets stranded in the billions.” He said it was also time to end fossil fuel subsidies and stop the expansion of oil and gas exploration.
“But even the most ambitious action will not erase the fact that the situation is already bad. In many cases, in many places, it is irreversibly bad.”
Coal has a significant environmental impact and the US Energy Information Administration lists a range of emissions from coal combustion. They include carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. Elsewhere, Greenpeace has described coal as “the dirtiest and most polluting way to produce energy.”
Guterres’ letter points to the huge task facing governments around the world who say they want to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and prevent the worst effects of climate change.
Despite such goals, fossil fuels still play a large role in the global energy mix and companies continue to discover and develop new oil and gas fields.
With the goal of keeping 1.5 alive, Guterres laid out a broad vision of how to achieve this.
Besides a “rapid, equitable and sustainable energy transition,” he said, the phase-out of coal and all other fossil fuels needs to be accelerated.
Other tools included a focus on adaptation, annual strengthening of national climate plans, and accelerating decarbonization of sectors such as cement, steel, aviation and shipping.
In addition, the most vulnerable need increased climate protection and financing. “This is how we will move the target of 1.5 degrees of life support into the recovery room,” Guterres said.
“Pop cultureaholic. Web nerd. Devoted social media practitioner. Travel fanatic. Creator. Food guru.”