The increasing number of natural disasters and dangers linked to climate change, highlighted in a major UN report released on Thursday, represents “another strong wake-up call” to the world, which must be countered by finding sustainable solutions quickly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said.
Speaking at the launch of the State of the Global Climate report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Mr. Guterres reiterated his call for action, underlining that the alarming conclusion that climate change is accelerating, “proves what we have been saying: climate change is moving faster than our efforts to address it.”
This was why he had convened the Climate Action Summit due to take place on 23 September, he said, sitting alongside the President of the General Assembly and the head of WMO, briefing correspondents in New York.
Mr. Guterres called on Heads of State to attend his climate action summit in New York on 23 September, and achieve positive change. “Don’t come with a speech, come with a plan,” he said, adding: “This is what science says is needed. It is what young people around the globe are rightfully demanding.”
I want the summit to demonstrate the benefits of climate action and how everyone can benefit”, he said. “A growing number of governments, cities and businesses…already understand that climate solutions can strengthen our economies, improve air quality and public health and protect our environment.”
This will involve a commitment to enhancing national pledges contained in the Paris Agreement by 2020, Mr. Guterres explained, and countries “showing how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade and get to net zero emissions globally by 2050”.
Assessing the potential benefits of sustainably-driven climate solutions that leave no-one behind, the UN Secretary-General welcomed the “growing number of governments, cities and businesses” that had embraced Agenda 2030-inspired climate solutions as a way to “strengthen our economies, improve air quality and public health and protect our environment”.
Initiatives could come from a range of areas, “such as energy, sustainable agriculture, forests and oceans and resilience to climate impacts”, Mr. Guterres said, maintaining that renewable technologies “are already delivering energy at a lower cost than the fossil-fuel driven economy”.
Despite this progress, much more radical steps must be taken, he insisted, explaining that “this means ending subsidies for fossil fuels and high-emitting, unsustainable agriculture, and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices”.
In addition, “it means carbon pricing that reflects the true cost of emissions, from climate risk to the health hazards of air pollution”, the UN chief explained, “and it means accelerating the closure of coal plants, halting plans for new ones, and replacing those jobs with healthier alternatives, so the transformation is just, inclusive and profitable.”
President of the General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, said she had pledged throughout her time in office there was a need for “a holistic understanding of the socio-economic consequences of increasingly intense extreme weather on countries around the world”, adding that the report “makes an important contribution to our combined international action to focus attention on this very critical problem.”
It was “really not good news” she told journalists, that CO2 emissions had jumped from 1.6 per cent in 2017, to passing the 2.7 per cent emissions growth, during 2018.
“We need to act, and to act now. The numbers and data are extremely worrisome…We are capable, we have the science, we have the knowledge, we have the tools in hand” to push back on global warming, she added.
WMO said that the temperature rise last year, came despite the agreement by the international community in December 2015 in Paris, to curb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, and to limit global temperature rise to well below 2C.
“The time remaining to achieve commitments under the Paris Agreement is quickly running out,” said WMO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas.
Outlining the report’s key findings, Professor Taalas warned of record greenhouse gas concentrations last year, that drove global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels.
According to WMO, carbon dioxide levels were at 357 parts per million (ppm) in 1994, rising to 405.5 ppm in 2017.
Professor Taalas also described “striking” evidence of record warming from 2015 to 2018, increasing sea-level rise and the loss of sea ice in both northern and southern polar regions.
Noting that extreme weather events have continued into 2019 - most recently with Tropical Cyclone Idai, which caused devastating floods and loss of life in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi – Professor Taalas said that its victims “personify why we need the global agenda on sustainable development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction”.
“We are seeing record rises in land and ocean temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse gas concentrations,” Mr. Guterres told journalists. “Second, we are seeing, more and more, the dramatic impact of extreme weather conditions. Last year saw 14 weather events where the devastation cost more than $1 billion…The average number of people exposed to heatwaves has increased by some 125 million since the beginning of the century, with deadly consequences.”
According to WMO, the start of this year has also seen warm record daily winter temperatures in Europe, unusual cold in North America and searing heatwaves in Australia. The extent of ice in the Arctic and Antarctica is yet again well below average, it said.
From now until May, WMO also forecasts above-average sea surface temperatures, which are expected to lead to above-normal land temperature, particularly in tropical latitudes.
General Assembly meets on climate change and sustainable development
Earlier on Thursday, the General Assembly held a High-Level meeting on climate change and sustainable development, including panel discussions on synergies between the two, and how the two agendas can be brought together in terms of concrete action.
"We all can reduce our carbon footprint everyday: in terms of the food we consume, the clothes we use, the transport we choose and the garbage we generate”, said Ms. Espinosa.
“Clearly we need to modify our consumption patterns. This is not just a world of shortages, but also of over-consumption. A great paradox is that 1,300 million tons of food are wasted every year, while almost 2000 million people suffer from hunger or malnutrition”, she told delegates at UN Headquarters.