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Planet on Fire: Urgent Action Needed to Tackle the Climate Crisis

Climate Crisis

UN chief warns: Target of limiting global warming is fading

New York – The United Nations Secretary-General has issued a dire warning about the urgent need for action to address climate change, as Earth has just experienced its hottest 12 consecutive months on record. With the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius at risk of being exceeded in the next five years, the world is facing a critical juncture in meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

The Secretary-General is calling for a phase-out of coal and other fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources, urging leaders of the fossil fuel industry to prioritize the clean energy transition. He emphasized the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on poorer countries and called for a global effort to address global emissions and mitigate climate impacts. The time to act on climate change is now, as failure to do so will have catastrophic consequences for the planet and its inhabitants.

Key Concepts

  • Earth has experienced its hottest 12 consecutive months on record.
  • The goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is in jeopardy.
  • The UN chief warned that the world is at a critical juncture in meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
  • Global emissions need to decrease by 9% each year to stay within the 1.5-degree Celsius limit.
  • The cost of dealing with the climate crisis will continue to rise without significant action.
  • The UN Secretary-General is advocating for a phase-out of coal and other fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources.
  • The fossil fuel industry needs to prioritize the clean energy transition to avoid a dead end for their businesses and the planet.
  • The disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on poorer countries was emphasized.
  • The Secretary-General called for wealthy countries to provide more support to mitigate climate impacts and invest in renewable energy for low-income countries.
  • Guterres urged citizens to continue advocating for climate action and called on leaders to take decisive action.

The United Nations Secretary-General said on Wednesday (June 5) that the world is at a “critical moment” in achieving the goals of limiting global warming in the 2015 Paris climate agreement: the earth has just experienced the hottest 12 consecutive months on record.

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“The fact is that nearly a decade since the Paris Agreement was adopted, the goal of limiting long-term global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius has been in jeopardy,” Antonio Guterres told an audience at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. An exhibit there about extinct dinosaurs offers a warning for the planet.

“The World Meteorological Organization reported today that there is an 80% chance that the global average annual temperature will exceed the 1.5-degree limit in at least one of the next five years,” he said.

“We are playing Russian roulette with our planet,” he warned in a special climate speech to mark World Environment Day, delivered under the museum’s famous blue whale.

The United Nations Secretary-General said that the richest 1% of countries emit the equivalent of two-thirds of all human pollution.

He said the earth emits about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year and will use up its remaining “carbon budget” of about 200 billion tons by 2030. Guterres also said that global emissions need to fall by 9% annually between now and 2030 to maintain the 1.5°C limit. Last year, emissions rose by 1%.

Without meaningful action, the bill to combat the climate crisis will continue to grow.

“Even if emissions hit zero tomorrow, a recent study found that climate chaos will still cost at least $38 trillion per year by 2050,” Guterres said.

Fossil fuels

The climate crisis has been a defining issue of Guterres’ tenure since he became the world’s top diplomat seven and a half years ago. He has repeatedly called for phasing out coal and other fossil fuels in favor of cleaner renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, which already produce nearly a third of the world’s electricity.

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He upped the ante on Wednesday, urging banks to stop financing oil, coal, and natural gas and instead invest in renewable energy. He called on countries to ban ads from fossil fuel producers and said news and technology platforms should stop accepting their ads.

“I call on the leaders of the fossil fuel industry to understand that if you are not on the fast track to the clean energy transition, you will push your businesses into a dead end and take us all with you,” the UN chief said, adding The oil and gas industry invested just 2.5% of its total spending in clean energy last year.

He urged PR firms and lobbyists to stop fueling the industry’s “planetary destruction” and drop these clients.

He said: “Many in the fossil fuel industry have shamelessly engaged in greenwashing even as they try to delay climate action through lobbying, legal threats, and massive advertising campaigns.

Leveling the playing field

The secretary-general reiterated his position that those countries that have contributed the least to the climate crisis are suffering the most—mainly Africa’s poorer countries and small island nations. The major economies of the Group of Twenty (G20) account for 80% of global emissions.

“It’s a shame that the most vulnerable are being forced into dire straits, struggling to cope with a climate crisis they did not create,” he said.

Guterres warned that the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees could mean survival or extinction for some small island nations and coastal communities.

“1.5 degrees is not a goal. It’s not a goal. It’s a physical limit,” he said.

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Global warming has damaged Earth’s oceans, coral reefs, and marine ecosystems and is melting sea ice. Globally, severe floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and other climate-related disasters are becoming all too frequent.

The secretary-general said rich countries must provide more financial and technical support to mitigate climate impacts and invest in renewable energy for low-income countries. He also said a global early warning system must be in place by 2027 to protect everyone on the planet from dangerous weather, water or climate events.

He urged citizens to continue making their voices heard and said it was time for leaders to decide whose side they were on.

“Now is the time to mobilize; now is the time to act; now is the time to deliver,” he said with a standing ovation. “This is a critical moment for us.”

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