UN Secretary General Urges ‘Climate Emergencies’ Worldwide

On Saturday the 12th of December, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on world leaders to declare states of ‘climate emergency’ in their nations, in the hopes that this would spur greater action to avoid climate change. Guterres’ comments came during his opening statement to the Climate Ambition Summit, a virtual conference with the aim of gathering global momentum for further cuts in planet-warming emissions.

Speaking to the virtual conference, Guterres asked “Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency?” He added, “That is why today, I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached.” Guterres took particular issue with the post-COVID recovery plans of many G20 nations – who are responsible for the larger share of carbon pollution – and noted that these countries were spending 50% more on the fossil fuel sector than the low-carbon energy section. As such, these nations are proposing to subsidise business as usual, rather than attempt to make significant change. Guterres said, “This is unacceptable. We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet,” and urged countries that had already announced zero-emission targets to stick to these promises, and accelerate their emissions cutting as best they can. “Every country, city, financial institution and company needs to adapt plans reach zero emissions by 2050, and start executing them now, including by providing clear short-term targets,” Guterres added.

In his speech to the conference, Guterres also drew attention to the Paris Climate accord signed in 2015, and noted that some nations were completely ignoring the pledged goals. The Paris Agreement, which aimed to ensure that the planet’s climate warmed by 1.5 degrees Celsius or less, was signed by 195 nations. However, it seems thus far that little progress has been made. The United States, one of the largest signatories (and one of the largest emitters of CO2), has chosen to withdraw from the agreement as well, although will likely re-join under the Biden administration. The World Meteorological Organization, in its report for 2020, noted that this year will go on record as one of the hottest years since recording begun, possibly even surpassing 2016 – the hottest year recorded. This means that each year from 2015 onwards make up the hottest years since modern climate records began in 1850. This trend is only likely to continue, with a 20% chance of the global temperature exceeding the 1.5 degree goal by 2024.

If decisive action is not taken to combat climate change, the world as we know it will cease to exist. The disparity between the more developed and less developed nations of the world will increase, and the global poor will be subject to far greater impacts. Island nations such as Kiribati face the possibility of total submergence, wiping out the homeland of many. Climate-related resource conflicts will emerge, and the world will face a major crisis of ‘climate refugees.’ Declaring climate emergencies is one method to ensure climate change receives greater attention; however, it is crucial that governments use the state of emergency to take action and reduce emissions. The continued funding of the fossil fuel industry, in light of the constant and ongoing problems these emissions cause, is an inappropriate use of citizens’ finances, and only serves to harm future generations. It is particularly galling that governments continue to fund these industries while also being signatories to accords such as the Paris Agreement. Making promises is one thing, but what is needed now, more than ever, is for nations to keep these promises.