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UN secretary-general calls for rapid and deep change at UN climate summit

03 Dec 2019 James Dacey

UN secretary-general António Guterres urged world governments to adopt a transformational approach to tackling the climate emergency – speaking on Monday at the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) in Madrid, Spain. “We need a rapid and deep change in the way we do business – how we generate power, how we build cities, how we move and how we feed the world. If we don’t urgently change our way of life, we jeopardize life itself,” he said.

Running from 2 to 13 December, COP 25 is a crucial meeting ahead of the 2020 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow where nations will be expected to present updated climate plans, in accordance with the 2015 Paris agreement. Guterres urged nations to replace words with actions in order to meet the Paris target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

“Catastrophic” effect

“10 years ago, if countries had acted on the science available, they would have needed to reduce [carbon] emissions by 3.3% each year. We didn’t and today we need to reduce emissions by 7.6% each year to reach our goals,” he said.  Guterres says that on current trends, there will be global heating of between 3.5 °C and 3.9 °C degrees by the end of the century. “The impact on all life on the planet, including ours, would be catastrophic,” he said.

We see everywhere a new dynamism, a new determination that makes me be hopeful

António Guterres

In a press conference later in the day (see video at top of article), Guterres made it clear that he is cautiously optimistic that targets can be met, following the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit that he hosted in New York in September. “We see everywhere a new dynamism, a new determination that makes me be hopeful. I’m hopeful but not yet entirely sure because there is still a long way to go and we are still running behind climate change.”.

Nancy Pelosi delegation

COP 25 was originally to be hosted by Chile, but due to political unrest the summit was switched to Madrid just a few weeks ago. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Spain’s acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez  welcomed delegates to Madrid and made the case for more environmentally-focused economic policies. “Today we know that if progress is not sustainable, it’s not worth calling it progress. Today we have the scientific certainty that the human hand is behind the damage to the fragile balance that enables life on our planet,” he said.

“Handful of fanatics”

Sánchez also made the pointed comment that “only a handful of fanatics deny the evidence” of anthropogenic climate change. Though at a press conference later in the day, he denied that he was referring to any specific parties.

At a separate media event, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, insisted that the US is still committed to the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement despite President Trump’s formal request to withdraw from the accord. Accompanying the Democrat politician was a congressional delegation including members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, a body established earlier this year.

“By coming here we want to say to everyone: we’re still in, the United States is still in,” said Pelosi. “Our delegation is here to send a message on Congress’ commitment to take action on the climate crisis is iron clad. We must act because the climate crisis for us is a matter of public health – clean air, clean water for our children’s survival our economy.”

Kathy Castor, chair of the select committee, spoke about plans to publish a climate action plan in March 2020 containing public policy recommendations. “We intend to follow the science. And we intend to ensure that vulnerable communities across America –and across the globe – have every opportunity to participate in this clean energy economy and transformation,” she said.

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