UN Chief says ‘to­tal dis­as­ter’ if warm­ing not stopped

An­to­nio Guter­res says lead­ers must do more in or­der to de­feat cli­mate change


The United Na­tions Se­cre-tary-Gen­eral said the world must dra­mat­i­cally change the way it fu­els fac­to­ries, ve­hi­cles and homes to limit fu­ture warm­ing to a level sci­en­tists call nearly im­pos­si­ble.

That’s be­cause the al­ter­na­tive “would mean a cat­a­strophic sit­u­a­tion for the whole world,” An­to­nio Guter­res told The Associated Press in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view.

Guter­res said he’s about to tour Pa­cific is­lands to see how cli­mate change is dev­as­tat­ing them as part of his re­newed push to fight it. He is sum­mon­ing world lead­ers to the UN in Septem­ber to tell them “they need to do much more in or­der for us to be able to re­verse the present trends and to de­feat the cli­mate change.”

That means, he said, the world has to change, not in small in­cre­men­tal ways but in big “trans­for­ma­tive” ways, into a green econ­omy with elec­tric ve­hi­cles and “clean cities.”

Guter­res said he will ask lead­ers to stop sub­si­diz­ing fos­sil fu­els. Burn­ing coal, oil and gas trig­gers warm­ing by re­leas­ing heat-trap­ping gases.

He said he wants coun­tries to build no new coal power plants after 2020. He wants them to put a price on the use of car­bon. And ul­ti­mately he wants to make sure that by 2050 the world is no longer putting more green­house gases into the air than na­ture sucks out.

Global tem­per­a­tures have al­ready risen about 1 de­gree Cel­sius since the in­dus­trial age be­gan. The is­sue is how much more the ther­mome­ters will rise.

In 2015, the world’s na­tions set a goal to limit global warm­ing to no more than 0.5 de­grees Cel­sius from now. Most sci­en­tists say it is highly un­likely, if not out­right un­doable, to keep man-made cli­mate change that low, es­pe­cially since emis­sions of heat trap­ping gases are ris­ing, re­new­able energy growth is plateau­ing, and some coun­tries’ lead­ers and vot­ers are balk­ing. A panel of sci­en­tists the UN asked to look at the is­sue ran com­puter mod­els for more than 500 fu­ture sce­nar­ios, and less than 2 per cent achieved those warm­ing lim­its.

Guter­res said the whole­sale eco­nomic changes needed to keep the tem­per­a­ture from ris­ing an­other de­gree or more may be painful, but there will be more pain if the world fails.

“If you don’t hang on to that goal, what you’ll achieve is a to­tal dis­as­ter,” the sec­re­tary-gen­eral said in his 38th floor con­fer­ence room.

If coun­tries only do what they promised in the 2015 Paris cli­mate agree­ment, it would be cat­a­strophic be­cause the world would warm by an­other 2.5 de­grees Cel­sius, Guter­res said, adding “that is why we need to dra­mat­i­cally ac­cel­er­ate ... what ev­ery­body knows needs to be done.”

Yet, glob­ally the trends are go­ing the other way. Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan en­vi­ron­ment dean Jonathan Over­peck said it looks un­likely that the world could pre­vent an­other 1.8 de­grees (1 Cel­sius) of warm­ing, let alone 0.9 de­grees.

And in an odd way that gives the U.N. chief op­ti­mism.

Be­cause as dis­as­ters mount and deaths in­crease, the pub­lic, es­pe­cially youths, will re­al­ize that warm­ing is “a dra­matic threat to the whole of hu­mankind,” Guter­res said.

So the worse it gets, the more peo­ple will de­mand change, he said.

That’s why he’s about to visit the is­lands of Fiji, Tu­valu and Van­u­atu in the Pa­cific Ocean, which he said is hit hard­est by cli­mate change.

Guter­res said he wants to use the de­ter­mi­na­tion and moral author­ity of the peo­ple who live on the threat­ened is­lands to con­vince world lead­ers to make nec­es­sary change.

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