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Climate Change: Guterres Thinks About his Youth’s Summers and Warns the World

In a hot press conference, the UN Secretary-General declares the emergency: July at least equaled if not surpassed the hottest month in recorded history

António Guterres declares: “If we do not take action on climate change now, these extreme weather events are just the tip of the iceberg, and the iceberg is also rapidly melting.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met the press today to give a statement about the record breaking summer temperatures in the past June, and the projection of another record broken for the past July. “We have always lived through hot summers,” he said. “But this is not the summer of our youth. This is not your grandfather’s summer.” “According to the very latest data from the World Meteorological Organization and its climate centre–  the month of July at least equaled if not surpassed the hottest month in recorded history,” he underlined.

In reference to the record-breaking temperatures all over the world in the past five years Mr. Guterres remarked; “If we do not take action on climate change now, these extreme weather events are just the tip of the iceberg, and the iceberg is also rapidly melting.” The temperature in the Arctic and Greenland, Guterres also stated, has risen by 10 to 15 degrees Celsius when Arctic sea ice is already at record lows. “It is the race of our lives and for our lives,” he said, “[but] it is a race that we can and must win.”

Refugees from Somalia arrive at the Burumino refugee camp in Ethiopia. Due to poor rainfall, and continued insecurity in Somalia, the number of refugees at the camp increased. UNICEF/Jiro Ose

Mr. Guterres discussed the plans to hold a summit on climate action on September 23rd of this year, preceded by a climate summit three days prior to come up with very specific plans not only to counteract the effects of climate change, but to adapt to what is already irreversible. “The ticket to entry,” Mr Guterres said, “is bold action and much greater ambition. The world’s leading scientists tell us that we must limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We need to cut greenhouse emissions by 45% by 2040 and we need carbon neutrality by 2050. We need to mainstream climate change risks across all decisions to drive resilient growth, reduce vulnerability, and avoid investment that could cause greater damage.” Mr. Guterres called on national leaders to come to the summit not with vague, hopeful visions, but with more concrete and thorough solutions to very specific problems.

2020 is, as the Secretary-General points out, the four year anniversary of the Paris agreement back in November of 2016, and the countries and leaders that were a part of committing to behavioral change on the international level will review the past four years of activity. With this, the international community will get a better understanding of how effectively the Paris Agreement plans have been carried out.

The mobilization of climate change action has been noticeable according to the Secretary-General, stating that “technology is on our side,” and that the market for renewable energy is beginning to deliver more efficiently and at lower costs than the fossil fuel industry. “Solar and offshore wind are now the cheapest sources of energy in virtually all major economies,” he declared, adding that,  “Norway’s parliament has voted to divest the world’s largest sovereign funds — worth 1 trillion USD — from the fossil fuel industry.” Action from numerous countries has also begun to combat deforestation with the planting of thousands of new trees in an effort to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even banks, Mr. Guterres said, have begun to implement the risks of carbon use into their pricing and de-incentivized emissions. “Asset managers are presenting nearly half the world’s invested capital–some 34 trillion USD–are demanding urgent climate action, calling on global leaders in the letter recently published, and I quote, ‘To phase out fossil fuel subsidies and thermal coal power worldwide, and to put a meaningful price on carbon.’” In the private sector, Mr. Guterres recognizes that businesses are beginning to transfer their focus from “the grey to the green economy” as competitive advantages diminish with delay.

SG speaks at Stakeout mostly about climate change. UN Photo/Mark Garten

The United Nations has reached out to businesses to assist their efforts in limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. “In addition to heat waves, we are also confronting many political hot spots,” the Secretary-General said. First, he expressed concern about rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, stating that, “a minor miscalculation could lead to a major confrontation.” Second, he expressed concern over “growing friction among the two largest global economies,” alluding to the United States and China and adding, “we need to learn the lessons of the cold war and avoid a new one.” Specifically, Mr. Guterres foresees a potential emergence of two competing economic powers, “each with their own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, their own internet and artificial intelligence strategy, and their own contradictory geopolitical and military views.” Mr. Guterres expressed optimism, however, in the mediation of the relationship, stating that “we still have time to avoid this.”

Third, the Secretary General addressed his concern about rising tensions between nuclear-armed states, citing the stabilizing consequences of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) across Europe, ending the Cold War. As August 2nd marks the expiration of the INF, the world will lose “an invaluable brake on nuclear war.” He urged global leaders to take new steps to stabilize the control of nuclear arms as not doing so would increase the threat of ballistic missile aggression. The Secretary-General called upon the United States and Russian Federation specifically to re-enact the “New Start” agreement as a first step in maintaining stability for further action. “I also call on all State Parties,” he said, “to work together at the 2020 Review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to ensure the NPT remains able to fulfill its fundamental goals – preventing nuclear war and facilitating the elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Guterres made his closing statements connecting the geopolitical issues across the globe with the existential threat of climate change inaction, stating; “The heating of the global political atmosphere complicates all our efforts to resolve troubling situations – from Libya to Syria, from Yemen to Palestine and beyond. We will do everything to intensify our surge in diplomacy for peace.

Journalists trying to get a question to Guterres on climate change –  UN Photo/Mark Garten

At the beginning, it didn’t look like that the sense of urgency on the topic had hit the press corps at the UN. In fact, the first three questions were related to other “hot topics”, especially regarding Syria and the Middle East. Finally, the last question was given to Pamela Falk of CBS news, who asked, “On your climate numbers, you gave some daunting statistics today from the WMO that July will be 1.2 centigrade degrees warmer than the pre-Industrial Era. You said the time is right to make this change.  What is your timetable in which the time to make a change and all of the changes you’re calling for would be irreversible. Is it ten years, is it 20 years? What do you think is the timetable for climate action?” “There are many things that need to be done now. There are many things that are being done now, but there is a very important moment in 2020.” he said. “In 2020, the countries will review their Nationally Determined Contributions, which means the commitments they made in Paris in relation to climate action. Now with the present Nationally Determined Contributions, the present commitments, we would have an increase of temperature at the end of the century clearly above 3 degrees Centigrade, which would be a devastating situation.” Finally, when Ms. Falk asked if the Secretary-General had a message for the United States, Mr. Guterres said; “There is a message to all countries in the world: that it is absolutely essential not only to implement the Paris agreement, but to do so with an enhanced ambition.” It seems that Guterres hopes the climate summit in September will provide a necessary clarification on where the international community stands on delivering their promises of action.

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