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There is an exit off ‘the highway to climate hell’, Guterres insists

Choosing the iconic Family Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History in New York to deliver his impassioned plea to grasp the solutions at hand, António Guterres warned that we stand at “a moment of truth”.

“In the case of climate, we are not the dinosaurs. We are the meteor. We are not only in danger – we are the danger. But we are also the solution.”

Citing the latest European Commission Copernicus Climate Change Service report showing last month was the hottest May in history, the UN chief said global emissions need to fall nine per cent every year just to keep the 1.5℃ temperature rise limit above pre-industrial levels alive.

Last year they went up by one per cent.

The UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also reported on Wednesday that there is an 80 per cent chance the 1.5℃ limit – the target established in the Paris Agreement in 2015 – will be passed in one of the next five years.

We are playing Russian roulette with our planet”, said Mr. Guterres. “We need an exit ramp off the highway to climate hell. And the truth is – we have control of the wheel.”

The iconic blue whale looms over the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History where Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a special address on climate action.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

The iconic blue whale looms over the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History where Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a special address on climate action.

18 months to save the world

Pulling back from the brink “is still just about possible”, he continued, but only if we fight harder. It all depends on decisions taken by political leaders during this decade and “especially in the next 18 months.”

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“The need for climate action is unprecedented but so is the opportunity – not just to deliver on climate but on economic prosperity and sustainable development,” Mr. Guterres explained.

Question of degrees

He said a half degree difference in global warming could mean some island States or coastal communities disappearing forever.

Scientists point out that the Greenland Ice Sheet and West Antarctic Ice Sheet could collapse and cause catastrophic sea level rise. Whole coral reef systems could disappear along with 300 million livelihoods – if the 1.5℃ goal is not met.

Extreme weather from East Asia to the western seaboard of the US has been turbocharged by climate chaos “destroying lives, pummelling economies and hammering health”, said the Secretary-General.

Fossil fuel Mafia

While billions around the world see their lives grow costlier due to climate change, “the Godfathers of climate chaos – the fossil fuel conglomerates – “rake in record profits and feast of trillions in taxpayer-funded subsidies”, he exclaimed.

He said many in the oil and gas industry have “shamelessly greenwashed” while actively trying to delay climate action, aided and abetted by advertising and public relations companies.

Oil and gas ban plea

“I call on these companies to stop acting as enablers to planetary destruction. Stop taking on new fossil fuel clients, from today, and set out plans to drop your existing ones”, said the Secretary-General.

I call on these companies to stop acting as enablers to planetary destruction. Stop taking on new fossil fuel clients, from today, and set out plans to drop your existing ones. 
— António Guterres

Creative minds in the sector are already focusing on saving the planet, not helping destroy it, he added.

Mr. Guterres called on every country in the world to institute a ban on advertising from fossil fuel companies

Salvation is at hand

Beyond the toxic corporations “we have what we need to save ourselves”, he assured the audience gathered just off New York’s Central Park. 

Forests and oceans continue absorbing harmful carbon and must be protected. The renewable energy business worldwide is booming as costs plummet and now make up 30 per cent of the world’s electricity supply.

Meanwhile, clean energy investments reached a record high last year, almost doubling in the past decade, the UN chief said.

“Economic logic makes the end of the fossil fuel age inevitable,” he added.

Action stations

To ensure the safest possible future for humankind and the planet, he laid out the urgent action that must be taken:

  • Slash emissions
  • Protect people and nature from climate extremes
  • Boost climate finance
  • Clamp down on the fossil fuel business

The biggest burden for action must fall on the richest nations and biggest emitters: “Advanced G20 economies should go furthest, fastest” while also providing technical and financial support to developing nations.

The Secretary-General called on national climate action plans to fall in line with the 1.5℃ limit and include absolute emission reduction targets for 2030, 2035 and all the global milestones along the way in the decades ahead.

Every country must deliver and play their rightful part…We need cooperation, not finger-pointing”, Mr. Guterres declared.

In terms of climate justice, he said it was a disgrace that most vulnerable nations are being left stranded with the impacts of a climate crisis they did nothing to create.

“We cannot accept a future where the rich are protected in air-conditioned bubbles while the rest of humanity is lashed by lethal weather in unliveable lands.”

Fairer climate finance and an end to the crippling debt and high interest rates that many developing nations have to endure is not a question of charity, he added, but about “enlightened self-interest”.

Secretary-General António Guterres (right) with Michael R. Bloomberg (left), UN Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions, and Sean M. Decatur, President of the American Museum of Natural History.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General António Guterres (right) with Michael R. Bloomberg (left), UN Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions, and Sean M. Decatur, President of the American Museum of Natural History.

All-in for climate action

“Climate finance is not a favour. It is a fundamental element to a liveable future for all,” he said.

People around the world are “far ahead of the politicians. Make your voices heard and your choices count”, he implored.

No one country or institution can solve the climate crisis on its own. “This is an all-in moment. The United Nations is all in – working to build trust, find solutions and inspire the cooperation our world so desperately needs”, said the Secretary-General.

He thanked the climate activists at all levels of society who have pushed for action so far: “You are on the right side of history. You speak for the majority. Keep it up; don’t lose courage, don’t lose hope.”

He said it is now “We the Peoples versus the polluters and profiteers” and united together “we can win.”

“Now is the time to mobilise, now is the time to act, now is the time to deliver. This is our moment of truth.”

For a recap of our live coverage of this major address from the American Museum of Natural History, go here.

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