Our planet is close to “the point of no return” and concerted global efforts to fight climate change “utterly inadequate,” the UN secretary-general has warned ahead of vital international talks on the Paris Agreement where world leaders would gather.
Almost 200 countries are participating, and the leaders, as well as delegates, will attempt to revamp the commitments made in 2015, establish new international rules for emissions trading, and broker systems of compensation for countries that are poorer and already affected by global warming.
The talks would probably be viewed as the last chance for the Alliance of the Small Island States that includes nation’s most at risk from rising seas to avert potential “catastrophe.” As Save the Children warns, climate change poses a threat to 33 million African children suffering from hunger because of cyclones and droughts.
“The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” Mr Guterres told reporters in Madrid. “It is insight and hurtling towards us.”
The UN chief denounced lackluster response of policymakers in the face of a “global climate emergency,” mentioning that the world possesses the scientific knowledge and the technical means to restrict global warming.
Mr Guterres said: “The signals of hope are multiplying. Public opinion is waking up everywhere, young people are showing remarkable leadership and mobilisation.
“More and more cities, financial institutions and businesses are committing to a 1.5C pathway … what is still lacking is political will.
“Political will to put a price on carbon. Political will to stop subsidies on fossil fuels. Political will to stop building coal power plants from 2020 onwards. Political will to shift taxation from income to carbon. Taxing pollution instead of people.”
All country leaders who will show “anything less” than accountability and responsibility, and a willingness to commit to ambitious targets “would be a betrayal of our entire human family and all generations to come,” he said.
However, he stressed his message was “one of hope, not of despair. Our war against nature must stop and we know that that is possible.”
Around 70 countries that have pledged to stop emission of more greenhouse gases by 2050 include many that are most vulnerable to climate change. However, the world’s largest emitters are yet to do so.
Mr Guterres is hopeful that the Madrid meeting would prompt governments to aim for net-zero emissions by 2050, ahead of a deadline to do so at COP26 in Glasgow next year.
The UN’s World Meteorological Organisation also warned Last week, that the level of greenhouse gases had hit another all-time high, “with no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline.”
It’s already four years since the Paris Agreement. However, negotiators are yet to manage the contentious issue of creating a worldwide market for emissions, which is a critical element of the sixth article of the 2015 accord.
“We are here to find answers for article six, not to find excuses,” Mr Guterres said.
These talks would be the last chance for countries to keep the Paris Agreement alive by firming up their targets for 2050 after a five-year grace period. As Donald Trump had long threatened, the conference also marks the first since Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the US would turn its back on the accord.
Marcia Bernicat, the assistant state secretary for international environmental affairs representing the US while Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, would lead a delegation of Democratic lawmakers.
About 29,000 visitors in total, including 50 heads of state and government were expected by the organizers for Monday’s opening and also scientists, seasoned negotiators, and activists during the two-week long meeting.
The conference, which was initially to be hosted in Chile, relocated to Spain because of deadly anti-government protests in its capital, Santiago.
Greta Thunberg is going on a catamaran across the Atlantic to attend the talks, and possibly land in Lisbon on Tuesday morning.