The United Nations chief said “humanity has opened the gates to hell” in a speech on Wednesday that warned that the global effort to cut planet-heating emissions is still “dwarfed by the scale of the challenge.”
It’s the latest attempt by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to capture in a soundbite the horrors unfolding in what is on track to be the hottest year in human history.
Last year, he described the planet’s trajectory as a “highway to hell.” In March, he said that “humanity is on thin ice ― and that ice is melting fast.” In July, when temperatures reached 54.4C in parts of the world, he declared the start of “the era of global boiling.”
By August, the United States tallied 23 climate disasters that eclipsed at least $1 billion (£81,000) in damages each so far in 2023 — with four months left before the year ends.
Floods swept through Libya, killing thousands and sweeping enough bodies to sea that the tides deposited corpses on the beach like foamy driftwood.
At the start of the hottest August on record, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund published new data showing that heat and humidity exposed 76% of children in South Asia to extreme temperatures.
Guterres delivered his speech at the opening of the “climate ambition summit” of the latest UN General Assembly in New York.
Since 2009, New York has made the most of having many of the world’s leaders and diplomats in the city for the General Assembly by hosting an annual week of climate-focused events ― known as “Climate Week” ― ahead of the official UN summit that takes place overseas in November.
The UN climate summit in two months will take place in Dubai, where the United Arab Emirates put Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, the head of its state oil company, in charge of the talks.
The conference is scheduled to be the first since the historic 2015 Paris Agreement ― the first global pact to cut emissions that included the two biggest polluters, China and the US ― to require an official “stocktake” to examine what progress has been made in the past eight years.
“The move from fossil fuels to renewables is happening ― but we are decades behind,” Guterres said on Wednesday. “We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”
Of course, doing so won’t be easy, he said. Rich countries’ failures to provide funding to help poorer nations adapt and avoid using more fossil fuels have left many “angry that they are suffering most from a climate crisis they did not create” and “angry that promised finance has not materialised,” Guterres said.
“Shady pledges have betrayed the public trust,” he said. “Shamefully, some companies have even tried to block the transition to net zero ― using wealth and influence to delay, distract and deceive.”
He urged governments to start negotiations now to build momentum for November.
“We need a transformation to rebuild trust,” he said. “Governments must push the global financial system towards supporting climate action.”