World on its way to “a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”: Guterres

Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

As the world prepares for its 8 billionth baby any day now, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has been a particularly fierce campaigner about the global climate disaster with a flair for the theatrical, has said the world is on its way to “a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

“We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing,” he said during his address today to the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP27 – between November 6 and 18th.

The backdrop to COP27 is the most disturbing realization is that the goal keeping Earth’s average temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above its preindustrial level is all but dead. As pointed out by Guterres repeatedly, the wealthiest economies are “shutting the door” on limiting the temperature to 2°C, let alone meet the 1.5°C goal.

COP27 will attempt to on the outcomes of COP26 to deliver tangible action on a host of issues critical to tackling the climate emergency – from urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions, building resilience, and adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change, to delivering on the commitments to finance climate action in developing countries.

“In just days, our planet’s population will cross a new threshold. The 8 billionth member of our human family will be born. This milestone puts into perspective what this climate conference is all about. How will we answer when “Baby 8 Billion” is old enough to ask:   What did you do for our world – and for our planet — when you had the chance?” Guterres said.

In the runup to COP27 Guterres had made these points, “A third of Pakistan flooded. Europe’s hottest summer in 500 years. The Philippines hammered. The whole of Cuba in black-out. And here, in the United States, Hurricane Ian has delivered a brutal reminder that no country and no economy is immune from the climate crisis.”

The conference comes in the shadow of the G20 industrialized nations stalling any major action. Guterres has been pointing out that the collective commitments of G20 leading industrialized nations governments are coming “far too little, and far too late”.

One of the goals of COP27 is to ensure that the developed world deliver on its pledges totaling $100 billion in order to support climate action in developing countries.  COP27 is seen as the litmus test for how seriously governments take the growing climate toll on the most vulnerable countries.

According to the United Nations estimate $300 billion will be needed annually by developing countries for adaptation by 2030.

As pointed out by Guterres, global emissions have continued to rise since 2018 when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations–led panel of scientists and scholars, said the goal of 1.5°C had become impossible. While it is often said the goal is “technically” possible to achieve but it invariably runs into global development compulsions and challenges, particularly in the developing world.

Since the 2018 IPCC report all the dire scenarios of extreme droughts, famines, hurricanes and other related catastrophes have become a reality around the world. Guterres has used his powerful platform to unrelentingly talk about the climate crisis as the defining challenge for humanity.

The best that is hoped for by many experts is that even as the world will overshoot the goal through the century there are expectations that by 2050 the world will control the temperature by removing vast amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Guterres’ remarks at COP27 remained characteristically candid and even deeply disconcerting.

“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 still on the accelerator,” he said.

While acknowledging that conflicts such as the war in Ukraine and others have caused much bloodshed and violence and have had dramatic impacts all over the world, he said it was crucial that the international community stays focused on climate change.

“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.  Indeed, many of today’s conflicts are linked with growing climate chaos,” he said.

He pointed out that the science is clear, adding, “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.

He called for “a historic act between developed and emerging economies – a Climate Solidarity Pact” as part of which all countries will make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade in line with the 1.5-degree goal.

“A pact in which wealthier countries and International Financial Institutions provide financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed their own renewable energy transition.

A pact to end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of new coal plants – phasing out coal in OECD countries by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040.

A pact that will provide universal, affordable, sustainable energy for all.

A pact in which developed and emerging economies unite around a common strategy and combine capacities and resources for the benefit of humankind.”

He singled out the two largest economies, the United States and China, as having “a particular responsibility to join efforts to make this pact a reality.”

“Humanity has a choice:  cooperate or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact – or a Collective Suicide Pact,” he said.