Decrying ‘Utterly Inadequate’ Efforts to Tackle Climate Crisis, UN Chief Declares ‘Our War Against Nature Must Stop’

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

On the eve of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres decried the “utterly inadequate” efforts of governments to curb planet-heating emissions and called for “a clear demonstration of increased ambition and commitment” from world leaders to tackle the crisis.

“For many decades the human species has been at war with the planet. And the planet is fighting back,” Guterres told reporters in Madrid Sunday. “We are confronted now with a global climate crisis. The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling towards us.”

“Our war against nature must stop,” he declared. “And we know that that is possible. The scientific community has provided us with the roadmap to achieve this.”

Guterres referenced various U.N.-affiliated reports from recent years, including three released in the weeks leading up to COP 25, the climate conference that will begin Monday and run through Dec. 13.

The annual Emissions Gap report, published Tuesday by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), warned that global temperatures are on track to rise as much as 3.2°C by the end of the century and countries’ commitments under the 2015 Paris agreement—a key focus of the upcoming conference—are insufficient to avert climate catastrophe.

The latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, published Monday by the World Meteorological Organization, revealed that levels of long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit record highs in 2018. The previous week, the UNEP and leading research organizations published The Production Gap, which found that planned levels of fossil fuel production through 2030 are “dangerously out of step” with the Paris accord goals.

“According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030,” Guterres noted. “The commitments made in Paris would still lead to an increase in temperature above three degrees Celsius. But many countries are not even meeting those commitments.”

Expressing concern about the “alarming rate” at which greenhouse gas emissions are growing, the U.N. chief highlighted The Production Gap‘s finding that the world is set to produce 120 percent more fossil fuels over the next decade than what is consistent with a 1.5-degree pathway.

As coal, gas, and oil production continues, “climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more deadly, more destructive, with growing human and financial costs,” Guterres pointed out. “Drought in some parts of the world is progressing at alarming rates destroying human habitats and endangering food security. Every year, air pollution, associated to climate change, kills seven million people. Climate change has become a dramatic threat to human health and security.”

Guterres called for ensuring that $100 billion dollars is available for developing countries to use for mitigation and adaptation to the climate crisis. He also emphasized the need for “more ambitious national commitments” to reduce emissions—especially from major polluters—and stressed that such commitments should “include a just transition for people whose jobs and livelihoods are affected as we move from the grey to the green economy.”

Governments across the globe face growing pressure from the public—particularly young people—to step up their climate action to meet the level of the crisis, noted Guterres, whose remarks to reporters Sunday came just two days after a youth-led worldwide climate strike that aimed to push COP 25 attendees to pursue more ambitious policies.

“What is still lacking is political will,” Guterres said. “Political will to put a price on carbon. Political will to stop subsidies on fossil fuels. Political will to stop building coal power plants from 2020 onwards. Political will to shift taxation from income to carbon—taxing pollution instead of people. We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions.”

Although Guterres didn’t criticize any nations or leaders by name—including U.S. President Donald Trump, who began formally withdrawing the United States from the Paris accord last month—the secretary-general chided the world’s largest emitters for “not pulling their weight” and warned that “without them, our goal is unreachable.”

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  1. xkeyscored

    It’s great to hear an international leader, the head of the United Nations no less, stating the urgency of the situation so clearly and forcefully. Long overdue.

        1. rjs

          it’s hopeless. we have to reduce emissions by 7.6% per year for the next 10 years to keep the rise under 1.5C degrees…ain’t gonna happen…

  2. Louis Fyne

    Too many third rails in climate change….just saying.

    And i’m not holding my breath as having a rational, calm, non-judgmental public discussion on climate is impossible. (hint: having a teenager or movie star or British royal shaming median America, who bust their butts every day and need affordable energy to make ends meet, won’t fly)

    Consume less, travel less, stop issuing less debt: try selling that during an election year in the first world (and growth would collapse);

    Build more fission*: try selling that to environmentalists who dislike fission more than CO2. The UN’s IPCC (obviously bought by Big Oil) base case is that fission must increase by 100% to 500% by 2050. (page 16)

    More countries in the developing world needs to use the pill: try selling that to the pope or imams (then prepare to be blasted as a lecturing neo-colonialist);

    Decrease migration into the US (near every new migrant, whether from Germany or Gabon, increases the world’s resource footprint given the US way of life)

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Plus another…

      To avoid locking people into fossil fuel consumption going forward, countries must prohibit the sale of equipment that requires fossil fuels to operate, like most cars and trucks, gas- and oil-burning furnaces, gas stoves and grills, gas water heaters, lawnmowers, etc.: That’ll be especially unwelcome in Canada, the northern US, northern Europe, and Russia, where wintertime temperatures routinely drop so low that heat pumps don’t work effectively. And cabin heaters drain electric car batteries faster than the drive train does.

    2. a different chris

      >try selling that to environmentalists who dislike fission more than CO2.

      Dude, please stop blaming environmentalists for something they had absolutely nothing to do with. Maybe they wanted to, maybe in your eyes they were unwitting collaborators, front-men if you will, but if greenies wanted fission beyond all else it would still be dying.

      Trump is the most powerful man in the world and he can’t save coal. It’s all $$$’s, and nukes can’t compete on that basis any better than coal can.

    3. The Historian

      I didn’t see anything in the article above about building more fission. Granted I didn’t read all the links though. Fission isn’t a panacea for all our ills. I believe Hanford still gives tours sometimes – perhaps you should go there to see the 375,000 acres of prime Washington farmland that will never produce food for humans in the future.

      And as far as stopping migration – that just won’t happen. Persia tried to stop Greeks from invading their territories when Greece cities were overpopulated – it didn’t work. Rome also tried to stop immigration – it didn’t work either. When people need to move they do and attempting to stop it only creates wars. Wasn’t one of Germany’s reasons for the invasion of Poland to get more lebensraum? One of the things we can do is to stop interfering negatively in their countries so that they won’t feel the need to have to leave.

      I agree that there are a lot of barriers in the way to a Green Revolution and the reduction of CO2 in our atmosphere, particularly from those who want theirs now, the future be damned, but that isn’t a reason to wring our hands and claim that it can’t be done. So the battle to save the planet for humans will be difficult, but to paraphrase JFK: “We do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

      1. Rod

        JFK was talking choices.

        Necessity is more forceful, and often when other options have been passed on, not a choice.

        Inuits are already there in their lifestyle–imo, Californians are not there yet with their lifestyle.

  3. jefemt

    re: Fission. Could not disagree more. An honest full life cycle analysis of direct and external costs of fission make it a non-starter.
    We have a very serious looming threat with fission’s legacy today; unfunded decommissioning, band-aid stopgaps with no acceptable to all solution for long term storage and management of post-production costs. It’s not a renewable green energy- whocouldanode?! When one is in a hole, best to stop digging.

    Have a gander of Chapter 15, “The World Without Us”, by Alan Weisman. Hot Legacy

    It seems to me that the solutions, all fingers in a dike attempting to hold back a grim inexorable tide, are locally appropriate technologies through individual actions.
    Ideally, ‘right thought and action’ will be followed begrudgingly by policies from ‘leadership’ once the smoke is clear, the dust settles and it is ‘safe’ for politicians.

    Conservation of resources- including energy use- and measured de-growth are part of a softer glide path for the scattered survivors of the humorous little experiment that is Homo sapiens.

    “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
    ― Edward Abbey, The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West

    1. Math is Your Friend

      “Fission. Could not disagree more. An honest full life cycle analysis of direct and external costs of fission make it a non-starter.
      We have a very serious looming threat with fission’s legacy today; unfunded decommissioning, band-aid stopgaps with no acceptable to all solution for long term storage and management of post-production costs.”

      An unlikely claim with 40 year old technology, and flat out wrong for the next generation of reactors.

      Waste storage is not a difficult technical problem, it is a political problem stemming from irrational fears of nuclear power.

      From wikipedia:

      The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, as designated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987,[2] is a proposed deep geological repository storage facility within Yucca Mountain for spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste in the United States. The site is located on federal land adjacent to the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, about 80 mi (130 km) northwest of the Las Vegas Valley.
      The project was approved in 2002 by the 107th United States Congress, but federal funding for the site ended in 2011 under the Obama Administration via amendment to the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, passed on April 14, 2011 by the Republican controlled house of Representatives.[3] The project has encountered many difficulties and was highly contested by the non-local public, the Western Shoshone peoples, and many politicians.[4] The project also faces strong state and regional opposition.[5] The Government Accountability Office stated that the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons.[6]


      Where I live nuclear power is one of the least expensive and most reliable sources of electricity, accounting for about 60% of electric power generation, producing roughly 90 terawatt-hours (90 million megawatt-hours) per year.

      ‘Green energy’ virtue signalling has, on the other hand, been an unmitigated disaster. Among its other achievements was a biomass generating facility producing power for more than $1.60/kwh – about 30 times the cost of nuclear power.

      The promised ‘green energy’ industry segment promptly collapsed when the government stopped picking the taxpayers pockets to throw money at them. The aftermath of the wind/solar fiasco has been electricity prices about 4 to 8 times higher than most places on this continent.

      The ‘green energy/green industry’ foolishness was probably the major reason that government was turfed out at the last election.

      As for the supposed dangers of nuclear power, we’ve been running between 12 and 20 reactors at any time since 1987, without a single fatal accident. Off hand I can’t think of any other major power source that has a comparable record… which is exactly what you would expect from the statistical data on power safety.

      1. Anthony G Stegman

        Nuclear energy is in no way, shape, or form a “green” energy. Uranium mining and refining is highly energy intensive. The use of massive amounts of concrete and steel in the construction of nuclear reactors is highly energy intensive. The transport and disposal of nuclear waste is highly energy intensive. All this energy is derived from carbon based sources. Over its lifetime a nuclear power plant generates more greenhouse gasses than does a coal powered plant.

        1. Grumpy Engineer

          Over its lifetime a nuclear power plant generates more greenhouse gasses than does a coal powered plant.

          Um, could you point to a technical reference or paper that backs that claim? Because it’s wildly in contrast with stuff I’ve read. Like this:

          Louis Fyne and Math is Your Friend are correct. Nuclear does the best. Only on-shore wind comes close, and once you include the additional emissions coming from the energy storage systems that must accompany wind (or solar) at high penetration levels, it’s no contest.

  4. polecat

    Imho, the U.N. is but a toothless, and somewhat corrupted bureaucratic Klaxon .. All wail, but of little actual bite!
    A new institution needs to develope free of hegemonic influence, regardless of the host .

  5. Ignacio

    I was looking in Guterres discourse for a change on the approach from voluntary commitment to obligatory/legal limits but not. Just “more ambitious commitments”. I will pay attention to the meeting but my expectations are low.

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Obligatory/legal limits are less valuable than you think. Why? Because when push comes to shove, such limits won’t be enforced. If a commitment requires that power station operators reduce emissions by 30% and they can only get to a 10% reduction, what’s the legal remedy? Throw the operators in jail? Impose rolling blackouts? If emissions from vehicles don’t drop fast enough, what’s the legal remedy? Gasoline rationing? A ban on car sales?

      China tried some hard enforcement of CO2 emission laws back in 2010 by imposing rolling blackouts. It was hugely disruptive, and they never did it again. Their ill-conceived coal burning restrictions of 2017 met a similar fate.

      If a legal limit results in an energy supply crisis, the limit will be waived. Every time.

      Commitments don’t change anything, regardless of whether they’re voluntary or obligatory. Deploying low-carbon replacements in place of existing fuel-burning equipment is the way change actually happens. If a commitment is unaccompanied by a viable hard plan to deal with all of the fuel-burning systems out there, it’s just a bunch of words.

      1. Ignacio

        But legal commitment implies the possibility of sanctions, these could be viable for the most flagrant cases. As you say viable plans are necessary and such commitments must be accompanied by those and financial suport as well. It needs identification of limits that can be impossed that do not suppose unnecessary suffering. When you have millions, hundreds of millions depending on coal or natural gas for winter heating is not wise to go to war-like restrictions that will ultimately be felt by those who are the least responsible. Also, restrictions must apply first to developed countries. There is ample room for restrictions regarding transport that migth force transition to less emitting practices. Start with the most obvious and design a roadmap. First go for the big fat energy wasters such as private jets and yatchs, then go against recreational excesses. Force public transport and other alternatives. Forbid gas-guzzlers Force LCA analysis of stuff and forbid the most obviously wasteful. Force repairability etc. There is much more to do including rules on working hours, But it is true that before or while applying restrictions a plan must exist on how to cope with those.

      2. Math is Your Friend

        “If a legal limit results in an energy supply crisis, the limit will be waived. Every time.”

        With a competent government, it will be waived before the crisis actually arrives.

  6. drumlin woodchuckles

    ” political will to shift taxation from income to carbon” . . .

    Really? The Rich and the SuperRich and the OverRich must have written THAT line in his speech.

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