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'High risk of failure' at critical Glasgow climate change conference, U.N. secretary-general warns

·Senior Climate Editor
·3-min read
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United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned on Monday that “unless we collectively change course, there is a high risk of failure” at the much-anticipated U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, scheduled in early November.

Speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York City after a closed-door meeting of national leaders to discuss climate policy, Guterres noted that the pledges of individual nations remain far less ambitious than what is needed to meet the goals laid out in the last major climate negotiations, in Paris in 2015.

“Based on the present commitments of member states, the world is on a catastrophic pathway to 2.7 degrees [Celsius] of heating, instead of 1.5 we all agreed should be the limit,” Guterres said. “To limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, we need a 45 percent cut in emissions by 2030 so we can reach carbon neutrality by midcentury. Instead, the commitments made until now by countries imply an increase of 16 percent in greenhouse gas emissions — not a decrease of 45 percent — an increase of 16 percent in greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 compared to 2010 levels.”

This gap, as well as a shortfall in climate aid to developing nations from rich countries, means that the outcome in Glasgow may fall far short of an agreement with the strength and ambition to set the world on a course to avert devastating climate change, Guterres said.

Antonio Guterres
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres speaking to reporters on Monday. (John Minchillo/Pool via AP)

Coming out of Paris, the hope was that countries would meet or exceed their pledges and then go to the next conference with even bolder plans. But that hasn’t happened, so the secretary-general is trying to encourage nations to commit to steeper emissions cuts and more generous financing to help developing countries transition to clean energy.

This is a pivotal week for climate policy, as the high-ranking government ministers and heads of state are meeting in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. Guterres also pointed to the meeting of the G-20 in Rome in October as a crucial inflection point, because the countries belonging to that group of economic powers are responsible for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and they have not completely filled the $100 billion climate fund that was promised in Paris.

Developing countries say that funding, and making half of that money available for projects that deal with the effects of climate change — not just for limiting climate change, which is what rich countries tend to prefer investing in — is essential to getting nations such as India and Indonesia, which could be large sources of emissions in the future, to commit to a clean energy pathway to economic growth.

“Developed nations need to implement their promise to mobilize $100 billion a year for climate action in the developing world from 2021 to 2025,” Guterres said. “We failed in 2019 and 2020. ... Failure to fulfill this pledge would be a major source of the erosion of trust between developed and developing countries.”

The only immediate action in response to the secretary-general’s exhortations appeared to come from Sweden and Denmark, which announced that they will direct half or more of their funding to climate adaptation.

And so Guterres was left to reiterate: “We need decisive action now to avert climate catastrophe.”

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