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UN Secretary-General warns against putting climate change on the back burner

UN Secretary-General officially opening COP27

As Planet Earth is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible, United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has warned stakeholders including world leaders against putting the phenomenon on the back burner.

He made the remarks today at the high-level opening of the COP27 Climate Implementation Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

The Secretary-General said the UN Climate Conference is a reminder that the answer is in the hands of stakeholders.

“And the clock is ticking. We are in the fight of our lives. And we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator. The war in Ukraine, conflict in the Sahel, and violence and unrest in so many other places are terrible crises plaguing today’s world.

“But climate change is on a different timeline and a different scale. It is the defining issue of our age. It is the central challenge of our century. It is unacceptable, outrageous, and self-defeating to put it on the back burner,” Mr. Guterres said.

The UN’s top man said today’s conflicts are linked to growing climate chaos. The war in Ukraine has exposed the profound risks of the world’s fossil fuel addiction. Thus, today’s urgent crises cannot be an excuse for backsliding or greenwashing. If anything, they are a reason for greater urgency, stronger action, and effective accountability.

Turning to human activity, he said it is the cause of the climate problem; hence it must be the solution. Mr. Guterres urged action to re-establish ambition, and rebuild trust – especially between North and South.

“The science is clear: any hope of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees means achieving global net zero emissions by 2050. But that 1.5-degree goal is on life support – and the machines are rattling. We are getting dangerously close to the point of no return. To avoid that dire fate, all G20 countries must accelerate their transition now – in this decade.

“Developed countries must take the lead. But emerging economies are also critical to bending the global emissions curve. Last year in Glasgow, I called for coalitions of support for high-emitting emerging economies to accelerate the transition from coal to renewables. We are making progress with the Just Energy Transition Partnerships – but much more is needed. That is why at the beginning of COP27, I am calling for a historic Pact between developed and emerging economies – a Climate Solidarity Pact,” he added.

The Secretary-General said the Pact must be one in which all countries make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade in line with the 1.5-degree goal. He said under the Pact, wealthier countries and International Financial Institutions should provide financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed up their own renewable energy transition.

He said it is also expected to end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of coal plants – phasing out coal in OECD countries by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040.

The Pact will provide universal, affordable, sustainable energy for all and be one in which developed and emerging economies unite around a common strategy and combine capacities and resources for the benefit of humankind.

The UN Secretary-General emphasised that the two largest economies – the United States and China – have a particular responsibility to join efforts to make the Pact a reality.

“This is our only hope of meeting our climate goals. Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact – or a Collective Suicide Pact. Excellencies, we also desperately need progress on adaptation — to build resilience to the climate disruption to come.

“Today, some three-and-a-half billion people live in countries highly vulnerable to climate impacts. In Glasgow, developed countries promised to double adaptation support to $40 billion a year by 2025. We need a roadmap on how this will be delivered. And we must recognize that this is only a first step. Adaptation needs are set to grow to more than $300 billion dollars a year by 2030. Half of all climate finance must flow to adaptation.”

International Financial Institutions and Multilateral Development Banks were encouraged to change their business model and do their part to scale up adaptation finance and better mobilize private finance to massively invest in climate action.

He said countries and communities must also be able to access it – with finance flowing to identified priorities through efforts like the Adaptation Pipeline Accelerator.

At the same time, there is a need to acknowledge a harsh truth: there is no adapting to a growing number of catastrophic events causing enormous suffering around the world.

The deadly impacts of climate change are here and now. Loss and damage can no longer be swept under the rug. It is a moral imperative. It is a fundamental question of international solidarity — and climate justice.

Mr. Guterres said those who contributed least to the climate crisis are reaping the whirlwind sown by others. Many are blindsided by impacts for which they had no warning or means of preparation. For that, he called for universal early warning systems coverage within five years.

The UN Secretary-General urged governments to tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies and encouraged redirecting the money to people struggling with rising food and energy prices and to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis.

On addressing loss and damage, he said COP27 must agree on a clear, time-bound roadmap reflective of the scale and urgency of the challenge to deliver effective institutional arrangements for financing.

Getting concrete results on loss and damage is a litmus test of the commitment of governments to the success of COP27. The good news is that stakeholders know what to do and have the financial and technological tools to get the job done.

“It is time for nations to come together for implementation. It is time for international solidarity across the board. A solidarity that respects all human rights and guarantees a safe space for environmental defenders and all actors in society to contribute to our climate response. Let’s not forget that the war on nature is in itself a massive violation of human rights.

“We need all hands on deck for faster, bolder climate action. A window of opportunity remains open, but only a narrow shaft of light remains. The global climate fight will be won or lost in this crucial decade – on our watch. One thing is certain: those that give up are sure to lose. So let’s fight together– and let’s win. For the 8 billion members of our human family – and for generations to come.”

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende