United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has denounced a “suicidal” failure to tackle climate change and said recovery from the coronavirus pandemic could be humanity’s chance for a reset to save Earth.
His comments on Wednesday came as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its provisional 2020 State of the Global Climate report that this year is on course to be one of the three warmest ever recorded.
“The state of the planet is broken. Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal,” Guterres said in a speech at Columbia University in New York City.
“Next year we have the opportunity to stop plunder and begin healing,” he added. “COVID recovery and our planet’s repair must be two sides of the same coin.”
Guterres called for a reduction in the use of fossil fuels and said a summit planned on December 12 for the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate change agreement should chart a new way forward.
“A new world is taking shape,” he said.
“Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes. Deserts are spreading. Wetlands are being lost. Every year, we lose 10 million hectares of forests.
“Oceans are overfished – and choking with plastic waste. The carbon dioxide they absorb is acidifying the seas. Coral reefs are bleached and dying. Air and water pollution are killing nine million people annually.”
As such “making peace with nature” must “be the top, top priority” of the 21st century, he warned, adding: “There is no vaccine for the planet.”
Welcoming the first commitments towards carbon neutrality from China, the European Union, Japan and South Korea, Guterres expressed hope that the movement would become global.
“Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050,” he said.
Separately on Wednesday, the WMO said in a report that 2020 is on track to be one of the three warmest years ever recorded – and it could even top the record set in 2016.
The past six years, 2015 to 2020, are therefore set to make up all six of the hottest years since modern records began in 1850, the UN agency said.
“The average global temperature in 2020 is set to be about 1.2 [degrees Celsius] above the pre-industrial level,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“There is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5C by 2024.”