The United Nations chief has called on world leaders to declare states of “climate emergency” in their countries to spur action to avoid “catastrophic” global warming.
Antonio Guterres’s comments on Saturday came during his opening statement to the Climate Ambition Summit, a virtual gathering aimed at building momentum for much steeper cuts in planet-warming emissions on the fifth anniversary of the 2015 Paris climate accord. More than 70 world leaders are due to address the one-day summit.
In Paris, five years ago, states promised to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) as much as possible, Guterres said via video-link. But he pointed out that the pledges made to meet that goal were insufficient, and in some cases were themselves being ignored.
The UN secretary-general warned that if the global community does not change course, the globe may be headed towards a “catastrophic” temperature increase of more than 3C (5.4F) this century.
“Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency,” Guterres asked. “That is why today, I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached.”
The state of emergency should remain in place until carbon neutrality is achieved, meaning that no more additional greenhouse gases are being pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere, Guterres said.
He said G20 nations – responsible for the lion’s share of carbon pollution – were spending 50 percent more in their rescue packages on sectors linked to fossil fuels than to low-carbon energy.
“This is unacceptable. We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet,” Guterres said, urging countries that had already announced net-zero targets to make good on their promises and to accelerate emissions cuts in line with the science.
“Every country, city, financial institution, and company need to adapt plans reach zero emissions by 2050, and start executing them now, including by providing clear short-term targets,” Guterres added.
The UN chief said key emitting sectors such as aviation and shipping must also “present new transformational road maps in line with this goal”.
“Climate action can be the catalyst for new jobs, better health, and resilient infrastructure.”
The summit is being co-hosted by the UN, Britain, and France, in partnership with Chile and Italy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among those due to make a statement via video-link.
Unlike previous climate summits, no negotiations are planned. Only countries with climate policy achievements are permitted to speak, in a bid to pile pressure on the other participants.
On Friday, Britain announced it would pledge to end direct government support for overseas fossil fuel projects at the gathering, aiming to spur similar moves by other countries to accelerate a shift to cleaner energy.
Diplomats are watching summit speeches for any signs of significantly stronger climate pledges from countries including China, which surprised many observers by announcing a goal to become carbon neutral by 2060 in September, India, and Japan.