'Humanity has opened the gates of hell': U.N. chief calls for climate change action

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres opened the United Nations’ Climate Ambition Summit on Wednesday in New York City with a dramatic declaration that “humanity has opened the gates of hell.”

Following the hottest summer on record, which featured a number of devastating extreme weather events linked to rising global temperatures, Guterres cataloged some of the results.

“Horrendous heat is having horrendous effects,” he said. “Distraught farmers watching crops carried away by floods. Sweltering temperatures spawning disease.”

The U.N. chief went on to call for more aggressive action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change and increased financial support for the most affected countries. He was followed by speakers from 34 nations discussing their own actions to address climate change.

Read more on Yahoo News: U.N. chief laments ‘naked greed’ of fossil fuel interests, countries criticize big polluters, from Reuters

The emissions gap

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks at a podium at United Nations headquarters.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. (Richard Drew/AP)

While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming over preindustrial temperatures will cause catastrophic global consequences, national pledges to reduce emissions have so far fallen short of what is needed to stay below that threshold — leaving what experts call an “emissions gap.” The world already has warmed 1.1℃, and current policies put the world on pace for an estimated 2.7℃ (4℉) of warming by the end of this century.

“Climate action is dwarfed by the scale of the challenge,” said Guterres, who is trying to build momentum for bigger, bolder national pledges of climate action at the next U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, which is set to begin in Dubai on Nov. 30.

U.S. left out but California included

California Governor Gavin Newsom points to a graph showing the increase in the risk of wildfires due to climate change.
Gov. Gavin Newsom at a news conference in Rancho Cordova, Calif., in April 2019. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

The two biggest emitters, China and the United States, were not invited to speak. Countries that have recently taken new actions to reduce emissions or deforestation, such as Brazil, Canada, South Africa and the European Union, were represented among the speakers, as were low-lying countries under intense threat from rising sea levels, such as Tuvalu and Pakistan.

There were also speakers from institutions like the World Bank and local governments such as the city of London and the state of California.

California is at the forefront of climate action. This week the state filed suit against five of the biggest oil companies for allegedly lying to the public about climate science, and it recently passed bills requiring all large companies to disclose their carbon emissions.

Read more on Yahoo News: California sues oil companies for allegedly lying about climate change

Attacks on fossil fuels

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at a podium at a rally following the March to End Fossil Fuels.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally concluding the March to End Fossil Fuels on Sunday in New York City. (Charles Sykes/AP Images for Glasgow Actions Team)

Advocates of increased climate action have been calling for developed nations to make plans to fully phase out the use of fossil fuels, a goal they say rich countries have been too reluctant to pursue.

On Sunday tens of thousands of activists participated in a protest dubbed the March to End Fossil Fuels.

In his U.N. speech Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom laid the blame for climate change directly on the fossil fuel industry.

“It’s not complicated, it’s the burning of oils, the burning of gas, the burning of coal, we need to call that out,” Newsom said.

“The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis, so we need to leave fossil fuels behind,” said Chilean President Gabriel Boric in his address.

Read more on Yahoo News: Tens of thousands march to kick off climate summit, demanding end to warming-causing fossil fuels, from the Associated Press

Focus on the biggest emitters

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, wearing a hard hat, tours an oil rig in Texas.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tours an oil rig during a campaign event at the Permian Deep Rock Oil Co. site on Wednesday in Midland, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Guterres, climate campaigners and representatives of the most at-risk countries are demanding that the world’s largest economies offer bigger emissions reductions and more money to help poorer countries build their clean-energy economies and adapt to changes such as longer, hotter heat waves, stronger storms and rising sea levels.

When the IPCC’s latest report was released in March, Guterres proposed a “Solidarity Pact” and an “Acceleration Agenda” for the world’s 20 largest economies. While the world as a whole must reach net-zero emissions by 2050, according to the IPCC, Guterres wants those countries that have already gotten rich burning fossil fuels to try to reach net-zero emissions by 2040.

He reiterated that demand on Wednesday.

“If we are to meet the 1.5-degree limit and protect ourselves from climate extremes, climate champions, particularly in the developing world, need solidarity,” Guterres said. “We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”