UN Secretary-General warns of ‘climate hell’ after planet experiences string of record temperatures
Secretary-General António Guterres delivers his special address on climate action from the American Museum of Natural History in New York on June 5, 2024. | United Nations

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called for immediate action to avoid the world being in “climate hell” after this May was the warmest ever recorded, according to a recent report from the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).

“It’s climate crunch time,” Guterres said at New York’s American Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, as UN News reported. “We stand at a moment of truth.”

Guterres emphasized that, though the need for measures to combat the climate crisis globally is at an all-time high, so are the occasions for sustainable development and economic prosperity.

“In the case of climate, we are not the dinosaurs. We are the meteor. We are not only in danger, we are the danger. But, we are also the solution,” Guterres said.

The UN chief cited C3S in saying emissions worldwide must be reduced by nine percent annually to maintain the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature limit established in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Global emissions increased by one percent last year.

On Wednesday, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization said the temperature threshold has an 80 percent likelihood of being surpassed within the next five years.

“We are playing Russian roulette with our planet,” Guterres said, as reported by UN News. “We need an exit ramp off the highway to climate hell, and the truth is we have control of the wheel.”

C3S data revealed that every month since July of 2023 had been a minimum of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with an average global temperature in the past 12 months 1.63 degrees warmer than in industrial times, CNN reported.

“This is a harbinger of progressively more dangerous climate impacts close on the horizon,” said climate professor Richard Allan from the United Kingdom’s University of Reading, as reported by CNN.

Guterres went on to say it was “still just about possible” to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but that we must try harder, UN News reported. He added that this decade of choices made by political leaders — particularly the coming 18 months — are crucial.

Guterres explained that half a degree of planetary warming could lead to some coastal communities or island nations disappearing.

If the 1.5 degrees Celsius target is breached, entire coral reef systems could vanish. The West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets could also collapse, leading to disastrous sea level rise, scientists have said.

The extreme weather in East Asia, the U.S. and other parts of the world has been made much worse by the climate crisis, “destroying lives, pummelling economies and hammering health,” Guterres added.

The secretary-general slammed “the Godfathers of climate chaos – the fossil fuel conglomerates” that, despite billions of people all over the planet suffering from the damages and increased cost of climate change, “rake in record profits and feast off trillions in taxpayer-funded subsidies.”

Guterres made a plea for all countries to stop supporting fossil fuel companies and institute a ban on their advertising.

“I call on these companies to stop acting as enablers to planetary destruction. Stop taking on new fossil fuel clients, from today, and set out plans to drop your existing ones,” Guterres said, as reported by UN News.

The UN chief highlighted the importance of protecting forests and oceans, which absorb carbon dioxide produced by humans. He pointed out that renewables — which now provide 30 percent of the planet’s energy — are here to stay.

“Economic logic makes the end of the fossil fuel age inevitable,” Guterres said.

The world’s biggest emitters of toxic emissions, as well as the most prosperous nations, must assume the largest burden for action, the UN chief said.

“Advanced G20 economies should go furthest, fastest” while giving financial and technical support to developing nations, he said.

“We cannot accept a future where the rich are protected in air-conditioned bubbles while the rest of humanity is lashed by lethal weather in unliveable lands.”

Guterres added that solving the climate crisis must be a collaborative effort and expressed thanks to climate activists who have been pushing for action.

“Make your voices heard and your choices count. This is an all-in moment,” Guterres said in New York. “Now is the time to mobilise, now is the time to act, now is the time to deliver. This is our moment of truth.”

This article was reposted from EcoWatch.

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Cristen Hemingway Jaynes
Cristen Hemingway Jaynes

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes covers the environment, climate change, oceans, the Arctic, animals, anthropology, astronomy, plastics pollution, and politics. She holds a JD and an Ocean & Coastal Law Certificate from the University of Oregon School of Law.