UN secretary-general in climate warning at honorary degree ceremony

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UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned “we are careering toward climate catastrophe, unless we act now” as he collected an honorary degree in person from Cambridge University.

Mr Guterres travelled from the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow to the prestigious institution to accept the honorary degree of Doctor of Law on Wednesday.

In an address at the university’s Senate House after he collected the degree, he spoke of the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis.

Mr Guterres said: “We are careening toward climate catastrophe, unless we act now to keep temperature rises to the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement.

Watch: U.N. secretary general: 'We face a moment of truth'

“Current pledges put us on course for an uninhabitable world, with temperatures at least two degrees higher than they were in pre-industrial times.

“Biodiversity is collapsing, with a million species at risk of extinction. We are polluting and poisoning air, water and land.”

He said that Cambridge University is “at the forefront of efforts to tackle these crises” through its climate change initiative Cambridge Zero and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.

The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership is “demonstrating that academia and the corporate sector can work together to drive transformative change”, he added.

He urged people to support a UN initiative to strengthen multilateralism, called Our Common Agenda, with an emphasis on long-term thinking, human rights and a focus on facts and science.

Mr Guterres said “levels of inequality are breath-taking”, adding: “Billionaires are competing in outer space while millions struggle to survive here on earth.”

Antonio Guterres
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres (right) at Cambridge University (Joe Giddens/PA)

The university’s vice-chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope said: “I am delighted that the university has today honoured the secretary-general Antonio Guterres with an honorary degree.

“In doing so, Cambridge is also recognising the work of his UN colleagues around the globe.

“The secretary-general is playing a crucial role in the arduous negotiations taking place at Cop26 and has been stark in his warning about the risks we are up against.

“But he has also given us hope.

“The UN’s Our Common Agenda initiative is a rousing call to strengthen multilateralism.

“In emphasising the importance of long-term thinking, and in proposing a greater focus on facts and science, it aligns with our university’s approach to tackling some of the world’s most complex challenges.”

Director of Cambridge Zero Professor Emily Shuckburgh OBE said: “The secretary-general has said we need institutions dedicated to learning, critical thinking and pushing the boundaries of human understanding.

“We are responding to that by channelling ideas and innovations from Cambridge to shape climate-resilient net-zero futures for every citizen of the world.”

Cambridge University Chancellor Lord Sainsbury of Turville conferred the honorary degree on Mr Guterres on Wednesday.

Watch: What is the Paris Agreement?

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