Take climate action or face collective suicide, UN warns

The world must take decisive collective action to tackle climate change or face collective suicide, UN Secretary General António Guterres has warned.

“This has to be the decade of decisive climate action. That means trust, multilateralism and collaboration. We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands,” he said.

His warning came during a week in which Europe became the latest region to receive a climate change wake-up call, with temperatures soaring to the mid-40s in continental Europe, spreading wildfires across the countryside in France, Spain and Portugal, and rising above 40 degrees Celsius in the UK where record numbers of fires broke out in London and other locations.

Eight months ago, we left COP26 – the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – with 1.5°C on “life support”. Since then, its pulse has weakened further, Guterres said.

“Greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise and ocean heat have broken new records. Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires.”

He said no nation is immune. “Yet, we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction. What troubles me most is that, in facing this global crisis, we are failing to work together as a multilateral community. Nations continue to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility for our collective future.

“We cannot continue this way. We must rebuild trust and come together – to keep 1.5°C alive and to build climate-resilient communities. Promises made must be promises kept. We need to move forward together on all fronts – mitigation, adaptation, finance, [and] loss and damage.”

Guterres said that, to protect people and the planet, we need an all-of-the-above approach that delivers on each of these pillars of the Paris Agreement – at pace and at scale.

“Time is no longer on our side. First, we need to reduce emissions now. Everyone needs to revisit their nationally determined contributions.”

Renewables revolution

He said it was important to demonstrate at COP27, due to be held in Egypt in November, that a renewables revolution is under way. He said there is enormous potential for a just energy transition that accelerates a coal phase-out with a corresponding deployment of renewables.

Guterres said the agreement with South Africa last November – a partnership with the governments of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the European Union, to support a just transition to a low carbon economy and a climate-resilient society in South Africa – set a good precedent, and partnerships under discussion with Indonesia and Vietnam are also significant.

“They embody the potential of working together in a multilateral and collaborative spirit,” he said.

But he stressed that these efforts should be additional – not a replacement – to the support that developing countries need in order to ensure their transition to a net-zero and climate-resilient future.

“I look to the G7 [Group of Seven] and the G20 [Group of 20] to show leadership – on NDCs [nationally determined contributions], on renewables and on working together in good faith.”

Urgent need to adapt

Second, he said, the world must treat adaptation with the urgency it needs. One in three people lack early warning systems coverage, he said. People in Africa, South Asia and Central and South America are 15 times more likely to die from extreme weather events.

“This great injustice cannot persist. Let’s ensure universal early warning systems coverage in the next five years, as a start. And let’s demonstrate how we can double adaptation finance to US$40 billion a year and how you will scale it up to equal mitigation finance.”

Third, he urged world leaders to get serious about the finance that developing countries need.

“At a minimum, stop paying lip service to the US$100 billion-a-year pledge. Give clarity through deadlines and timelines and get concrete on its delivery. And let’s ensure that those who need funding most can access it.

“As shareholders of multilateral development banks, developed countries must demand immediate delivery of the investments and assistance needed to expand renewable energy and build climate-resilience in developing countries. Demand that these banks become fit for purpose.

“Demand that they change their tired frameworks and policies to take more risk and dramatically improve their dismal private investment mobilisation ratio of 29 cents to the dollar.

“They should increase funding that does not require sovereign guarantees. And they should use partnerships and instruments to take on risk that will unleash the trillions of dollars of private investment we need.

“Let’s show developing countries that they can rely on their partners,” he said.

Loss and damage

Fourth, he warned that the issue of loss and damage has languished on the sidelines for too long and was “eroding the trust we need to tackle the climate emergency together”.

He said he had seen first-hand the impact of sea level rise, crippling drought and devastating floods.

“Loss and damage are happening now … We need a concrete global response that addresses the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people, communities and nations.”

He said the first step is to create a space within the multilateral climate process to address this issue – including finance for loss and damage.

“This has to be the decade of decisive climate action. That means trust, multilateralism and collaboration. We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands,” he said.

This issue is addressed by UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 (SDG 13): Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. For more information about higher education’s contribution to addressing the SDGs, see University World News’ SDGs hub.