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UN chief warns against ‘sleepwalking to climate catastrophe’

By Guardian Nigeria
04 April 2022   |   3:04 am
The goal to limit future warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, highlighted in the Paris agreement on climate change, and driven home in last November’s COP 26, gathering in Glasgow...

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The goal to limit future warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, highlighted in the Paris agreement on climate change, and driven home in last November’s COP 26, gathering in Glasgow, is now on “life support” and “in intensive care,” the UN chief told the Economist Sustainability Summit last week.

Speaking via video link, Secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, highlighted some of the progress made at COP 26 last year but pointing to “the enormous emissions gap” conceded that “the main problem was not solved – it was not even properly addressed.”

“Keeping 1.5 alive requires a 45 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by mid-century,” he said, highlighting how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatened to become a huge setback for the concerted effort to speed up climate action.

According to current national commitments however, global emissions are set to increase by almost 14 per cent during the rest of the decade. 

Last year alone, global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by six per cent “to their highest levels in history,” Guterres said, as coal emissions surged “to record highs.” 

With the planet warming by as much as 1.2 degrees, and where climate disasters have forced 30 million to flee their homes, Guterres warned: “We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe. “In our globally connected world, no country and no corporation, can insulate itself from these levels of chaos.” 

“If we do not want to “kiss 1.5 goodbye…we need to go to the source – the G20” (group of leading industrialised nations), the UN chief said.

Noting that developed and emerging G20 economies account for 80 per cent of all global emissions, he drew attention to a high dependence on coal but underscored that “our planet can’t afford a climate blame game.”

Developed countries must not put the onus on emerging economies to accelerate their transition nor must emerging economies responding by saying, “you exported carbon-intensive heavy industrial activities to us in return for cheaper goods.”

The Secretary-General pointed to “a cauldron of challenges” such as “scandalously uneven” COVID recovery, record inflation, and the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine, which risks upending global food and energy markets.

“with major implications for the global climate agenda”. 

As major economies pursue a so-called “all-of-the-above” strategy to replace Russian fossil fuels, short-term measures might create long-term fossil fuel dependence and close the 1.5 degrees window, he warned. 

“Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use,” Guterres insisted. “This is madness.”

As fossil fuels reliance continues to put the global economy and energy security at the mercy of geopolitical shocks and crises, “the timeline to cut emissions by 45 per cent is extremely tight.”