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World Environment Day: UN Secretary-General Reckons with ‘A Moment of Truth’ on Climate Action

The Secretary-General, António Guterres, recently visited Antarctica to see the deadly impact of the climate crisis. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

The Secretary-General, António Guterres, recently visited Antarctica to see the deadly impact of the climate crisis. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

NEW YORK, Jun 5 2024 (IPS) - Coming at a time of record-breaking global temperatures over the last twelve months, the UN chief calls on world leaders, including the G20 and G7 members, to commit to their climate action goals as laid out in the Paris Agreement. Experts across multiple industries are also encouraged to do their part to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis.

Today (June 5, 2024) is World Environment Day, which UN Secretary-General António Guterres marked with a special address delivered at the American Museum of Natural History. He warned that global efforts to address the climate crisis need to be strengthened, which would depend on the decisions that world leaders will take in the coming months and years.  In the lead-up to major global conferences such as the G20 and G7 summits, the United Nations General Assembly in September and COP29 this November, this time is considered critical for countries to reassess and reaffirm their nationally determined contributions and their climate action plans.

“The need for action is unprecedented but so is the opportunity—not just to deliver on climate, but on economic prosperity and sustainable development,” said Guterres. “Climate action cannot be captive to geo-political divisions.”

The Secretary-General’s special address also coincided with the release of a new report and findings from the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Global Annual to Decade Climate Update 2024 report. In addition to revealing the 80 percent likelihood of the global annual average temperature exceeding the 1.5 degree limit, the report also notes that the global annual average temperature may exceed the 1.5-degree Celsius limit at least once within the next five years, between 2024 and 2028. There is a high likelihood that one of these years will set a new record temperature high, which could beat 2023, the current hottest year on record.

“WMO is sounding the alarm that we will be exceeding the 1.5°C level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency. We have already temporarily surpassed this level for individual months—and indeed, as averaged over the most recent 12-month period. However, it is important to stress that temporary breaches do not mean that the 1.5 °C goal is permanently lost because this refers to long-term warming over decades,” said WMO Deputy Secretary-General Ko Barrett.

Guterres also drew from data findings from the EU-funded Copernicus Climate Change Service, which found that the highest global average temperature over the last twelve-month period (June 2023–May 2024) was the highest on record, at 1.63 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era.

During the speech, Guterres made several key recommendations for world governments and other stakeholders, namely to slash carbon emissions, boost climate financing, and protect people and places from the extremes of climate change. He called on the G20 countries, who account for up to eighty percent of global carbon emissions, to bolster their climate action plans that would include majorly reducing global emissions. They were also called on to show what he referred to as climate solidarity by providing technical and financial support to developing countries’ efforts to meet their goals. G20 economies would not only have the means to take these measures, but they should also be able to set the standard for other countries.

UN Secretary General António Guterres. Credit:   Naureen Hossain/IPS

UN Secretary General António Guterres. Credit: Naureen Hossain/IPS

Guterres also called for G20 countries to commit to reducing or ending their use of coal, oil, and gas fuels to reduce supply and demand by sixty percent by 2035. For all other countries, including developing economies, their climate action plans should also “double as investment plans,”  which will spur sustainable development and make use of renewable energy sources to meet the “soaring energy demand.”

Protecting people and places is also of key importance in Guterres’ address, as he recommended ramping up protections from climate chaos, particularly for the most vulnerable communities. Recently, this has manifested through extreme weather conditions such as heatwaves in countries across South and Southeast Asia and heavy storms in Latin America, such as Brazil. All countries will be expected to set out their climate adaptation plans, including accounting for adaptation finance, which goes towards actions to reduce the risks communities face in times of climate hazards. Guterres reiterated that developed countries should honor their commitment to double adaptation financing up to 40 billion USD a year by 2025. He also noted that the gap in adaptation finance must be addressed in COP29 this year.

Guterres took aim at the fossil fuel industry in his speech, referring to it as the “Godfather of climate chaos.” He noted that the industry takes in profits and benefits from taxpayer-subsidies that amount to trillions of dollars and have stood in the way of progress with “relentless zeal” over the years. He noted that the industry has spent far more time and money—billions, even—sowing doubt about alternate energy sources and investing as little as 2.5 percent of their capital in clean energy.

“Doubling down on fossil fuels in the 21st century is like doubling down on horseshoes and carriage wheels in the 19th (century),” he said.

He went further to urge others to stop extending their support to the fossil fuel industry, calling on financial institutions to stop bankrolling fossil fuel companies, urging advertising and public relations companies to stop working with them to spread their influence, and even calling for countries to ban advertisements for fossil fuels.

Among these harrowing concerns and the stark facts of the immediate impact of climate change, there is still some hope. It has been emphasized that countries already possess the resources to meet the challenges brought on by climate change.

“We are living in unprecedented times, but we also have unprecedented skill in monitoring the climate and this can help inform our actions,” said Carlo Buontempo, Director of Copernicus Climate Change Service. “This string of hottest months will be remembered as comparatively cold but if we manage to stabilize the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in the very near future, we might be able to return to these “cold” temperatures by the end of the century.”

In his speech, Guterres commended those in civil society, the business sector, and activists, along with cities and regions that have advocated for or implemented measures towards environmental consciousness. “You are on the right side of history. You speak for the majority,” he said.

Guterres also noted that the United Nations would be “all in” in finding solutions and encouraging cooperation between stakeholders. This level of cooperation would only yield concrete results with full involvement and commitment to undo the damage caused by man-made climate change. “Now is the time to mobilize. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to deliver. This is our moment of truth.”

IPS UN Bureau Report


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