Energy & Environment

UN secretary general: World is ‘sleepwalking to climate catastrophe’

Associated Press/Robert Bumsted

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday warned that time is running out to meet the international goal of keeping climate change below 1.5 degrees Celsius, saying that the world is “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.”

Speaking at the Economist Sustainability Summit, Guterres said the goal is “on life support” and “in intensive care” due to a combination of issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a general lack of political will.

“The world returned from [the COP26 climate summit] with a certain naive optimism” about achieving the goal, Guterres told attendees at the Economist Sustainability Summit. “Keeping 1.5 alive requires a 45 percent reduction in global emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by mid-century. That problem was not solved in Glasgow.”

“According to present national commitments, global emissions are set to increase by almost 14 percent in the 2020s,” he added. “Last year alone, global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 6 percent to their highest levels in history. Coal emissions have surged to record highs. We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.”

Guterres added that the energy crisis created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against Russian energy illustrated the risks of the status quo.

“As current events make all too clear, our continued reliance on fossil fuels puts the global economy and energy security at the mercy of geopolitical shocks and crises,” Guterres said.

He told attendees that there remained hope to “move the 1.5-degree goal from life support to the recovery room” if certain steps are taken, such as increased use of renewables and decarbonization of major industrial sectors.

The secretary general’s remarks come the month after a dire assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of the “brief and rapidly closing window” leaders have to prevent catastrophic global warming.

Meanwhile, on a country-by-country level, progress on emissions reductions has largely stalled out.

China, the world’s No. 1 emitter, has not committed to carbon neutrality, only to reaching peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

In the U.S., meanwhile, much of the Biden administration’s most ambitious climate goals were seemingly scuttled in December after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he would not back the sweeping Build Back Better legislation. Biden’s executive actions, meanwhile, have encountered setbacks in court, particularly a week-one executive order that barred new oil and gas leasing on public lands.

Tags 1.5 degrees Climate change Joe Manchin secretary general United Nations

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