Time for ‘diplomatic niceties’ is over if world is to be saved, UN secretary general says

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Global leaders must dispense with soft language and step up efforts to mitigate climate change if they are to avert “terrible human suffering” in the decades to come, the head of the UN has said.

Writing in The Independent, Antonio Guterres said the time for “diplomatic niceties” was over, and that the richest countries must “stand up and lead” the world away from the brink of runaway global heating.

In comments timed to coincide with the opening of Cop26, the climate summit being held in Glasgow, Mr Guterres writes: “Governments’ actions so far simply do not add up to what is so desperately needed.

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“Recent new announcements for climate action are welcome and critical – but even so, our world is on track for calamitous global temperature rises well above 2C.

“The time has passed for diplomatic niceties. If governments – especially G20 governments – do not stand up and lead this effort, we are headed for terrible human suffering.

“But all countries need to realise that the old, carbon-burning model of development is a death sentence for their economies and our planet.”

The UN secretary-general urged Cop26 participants to continue to aim for the 1.5C warming target agreed on in Paris in 2015, which he said was still “entirely achievable”.

However, Mr Guterres warned it would only be hit if carbon emissions were slashed nearly in half this decade and they reached net-zero levels by 2050.

Boris Johnson and others have acknowledged that securing the necessary agreements over the next two weeks will be an uphill battle. The PM has attempted to manage expectations for a summit his own advisers have labelled “the one chance we have to save the world”.

Cop26 got off to a rocky start when its president Alok Sharma was heckled as he addressed the summit’s youth event. Young delegates called the minister a hypocrite on Saturday night, attacking the government’s plans for the Cambo oil field.

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