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UN chief: World has less than 2 years to avoid ‘runaway climate change'
António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, told global leaders this week that the world has less than two years to avoid "runaway climate change."
"If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change," Guterres said during a speech at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
"Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment," he said. "Scientists have been telling us for decades. Over and over again. Far too many leaders have refused to listen."
"The time has come for our leaders to show they care about the people whose fate they hold in their hands," Guterres said. "We need to rapidly shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels."
Guterres praised the Paris climate accord during his address but also called for more efforts to reduce the emissions that scientists say have been warming the planet over the past century.
"These targets were really the bare minimum to avoid the worst impacts of climate change," Guterres said. "But scientists tell us that we are far off track. According to a U.N. study, the commitments made so far by the parties to the Paris Agreement represent just one-third of what is needed."
The goal of the Paris agreement is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to prevent what many scientists say would be catastrophic impacts on the global climate.
President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the pact last year, a move that separated the U.S. from the rest of the world on climate change. At the time, Trump called the climate change agreement "unfair at the highest level to the United States."
Guterres on Monday also rejected claims from critics who say that shifting away from fossil fuels like oil and coal would be costly, calling that notion "hogwash."
"Over the past decade, extreme weather and the health impact of burning fossil fuels have cost the American economy at least $240 billion a year," Guterres said. "This cost will explode by 50 percent in the coming decade alone. By 2030, the loss of productivity caused by a hotter world could cost the global economy $2 trillion."
Guterres called on world leaders to step up their efforts to combat climate change.
"What we still lack, even after the Paris agreement, is leadership and the ambition to do what is needed," he said.