In his speech delivered on Wednesday (December 2) at Columbia University in New York, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said that the fight against the climate crisis is the top priority for the 21st Century.
His remarks come at the beginning of a month of UN-led climate action, which includes the release of major reports on the global climate and fossil fuel production, culminating in a climate summit on 12 December, the fifth anniversary of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
Mr. Guterres expressed concern over humanity’s mishandling of the environment, which has seen a collapse in biodiversity, spreading deserts, and oceans reaching record temperatures.
The UN chief also said that there is a link between Covid-19 and man-made climate change, as the continued encroachment of people and livestock into animal habitats, risks exposing us to more deadly diseases.
While the economic slowdown resulting from the pandemic has temporarily slowed emissions of harmful greenhouse gases, levels of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane are still rising, with the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere at a record high.
Despite this worrying trend, Mr. Guterres warned that fossil fuel production – responsible for a significant proportion of greenhouse gases – is predicted to continue on an upward path.
According to the Secretary-General, the appropriate global response should be a transformation of the world economy, flicking the “green switch” and building a sustainable system driven by renewable energy, green jobs, and a resilient future.
He added that one way to achieve this vision is by achieving net zero emissions. There are encouraging signs on this front, with several developed countries, including the UK, Japan, and China, committing to the goal over the next few decades.
Mr. Guterres called on all countries, cities, and businesses to target 2050 as the date by which they achieve carbon neutrality – to at least halt national increases in emissions – and for all individuals to do their part.
Companies, he said, need to adjust their business models, ensuring that finance is directed to the green economy, and pension funds, which manage some $32 trillion in assets, need to step and invest in carbon-free portfolios.
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