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UN chief warns world is sleepwalking toward a climate catastrophe

By ANGUS McNEICE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-03-23 08:56

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the media at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, US, March 14, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said the world is "sleepwalking to climate catastrophe" because of slow action on emissions and a continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Guterres said that the Paris Agreement goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius is "on life support", and called out leaders in rich countries for shifting blame onto emerging economies, and vice-versa.

The UN chief also said that the response to the Ukraine conflict has exacerbated the climate crisis, as major economies pursue strategies to replace Russian fossil fuels, resulting in "short-term measures" creating "long-term fossil fuel dependence".

"This is madness," Guterres told the Economist Sustainability Summit in London. "Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction."

Guterres said that some progress was made at the UN climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow last November, including agreements to end deforestation, reduce methane emissions and mobilize private finance.

"But the main problem was not solved," he said. "It was not even properly addressed, and that problem is the enormous emissions gap."

Experts estimate that limiting warming at 1.5 degrees will require a 45 percent reduction in global emissions by 2030, and carbon neutrality by mid-century. Guterres said that current national commitments for reductions will lead to a 14 percent increase in emissions during the 2020s.

"That problem was not solved in Glasgow. In fact, the problem is getting worse," he said.

Guterres also addressed a common cause of conflict during negotiations at COP26, where rich nations pointed to high emissions in emerging economies that are still undergoing industrialization, while developing nations focused on the historical emissions burden of developed regions.

"If this goes on, there are no winners in a blame game," Guterres said. "We can't point fingers while the planet burns."

Guterres advocated the formation of coalitions to provide major emerging economies with resources and technology to accelerate their transition from coal to renewable energy.

He said that such an effort was underway in South Africa, which is among the most coal-dependent nations in the G20 group of economies. In November, the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom announced the International Just Energy Transition Partnership, through which partner countries will support decarbonization in South Africa.

"And the pieces are coming into place for coalitions in Indonesia, Vietnam and elsewhere," said Guterres, who also singled out the 2021 commitment by China to cease investment in overseas coal projects as a positive development.

Guterres made his comments days after scientists confirmed record-breaking temperatures in parts of the Antarctic.

"East Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, is experiencing an incredible heatwave unlike any ever observed," said Renato Colucci, a climatologist at Severe Weather Europe.

Temperatures at Concordia Research Station on the southern continent reached minus 12.2 degrees Celsius on Friday, the highest temperature since records began, and about 40 degrees Celsius above average for this time of year.

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