UN chief urges countries not to surrender on climate fight

  • Laborers lift a large basket filled with coal before loading it into a truck for transportation in Godhar, India. AP file

  • FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2019 file photo, a malnourished cow grazes on a drought-affected ranch in Putaendo, Chile. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix, File) Esteban Felix

  • Spain's caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen shake hands at the COP25 climate talks summit in Madrid, Monday Dec. 2, 2019. The chair of a two-week climate summit attended by nearly 200 countries warned at its opening Monday that those refusing to adjust to the planet's rising temperatures "will be on the wrong side of history." (AP Photo/Andrea Comas) ANDREA COMAS

  • U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Spain's caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez shake hands at the COP25 climate talks summit in Madrid, Monday Dec. 2, 2019. The chair of a two-week climate summit attended by nearly 200 countries warned at its opening Monday that those refusing to adjust to the planet's rising temperatures "will be on the wrong side of history." (AP Photo/Andrea Comas) ANDREA COMAS

  • Attendees sit next to a security control access at the COP25 climate talks summit in Madrid, Monday Dec. 2, 2019. Delegates from almost 200 countries have begun a two-week international climate conference in Madrid that seeks to step-up efforts to stop global warming. The opening of the COP25 summit came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the efforts so far are insufficient to overcome the "point of no return" in climate change. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) Manu Fernandez

  • Attendees queue at one of the security control at the COP25 climate talks summit in Madrid, Monday Dec. 2, 2019. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Sunday that the world's efforts to stop climate change have been "utterly inadequate" so far and there is a danger global warming could pass the "point of no return." Delegates from almost 200 countries will try to put the finishing touches on the rules governing the 2015 Paris climate accord at the COP25 climate talks Dec. 2-13 meeting. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) Manu Fernandez

  • Attendees queue at one of the security control at the COP25 climate talks summit in Madrid, Monday Dec. 2, 2019. Delegates from almost 200 countries have begun a two-week international climate conference in Madrid that seeks to step-up efforts to stop global warming. The opening of the COP25 summit came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the efforts so far are insufficient to overcome the "point of no return" in climate change. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) Manu Fernandez

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. arrives for a press conference at the COP25 climate talks summit in Madrid, Monday Dec. 2, 2019. The chair of a two-week climate summit attended by nearly 200 countries warned at its opening Monday that those refusing to adjust to the planet's rising temperatures "will be on the wrong side of history." (AP Photo/Andrea Comas) ANDREA COMAS

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks during a press conference at the COP25 climate talks summit in Madrid, Monday Dec. 2, 2019. The chair of a two-week climate summit attended by nearly 200 countries warned at its opening Monday that those refusing to adjust to the planet's rising temperatures "will be on the wrong side of history." (AP Photo/Andrea Comas) ANDREA COMAS

  • U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres poses for a portrait during an interview with The Associated Press at the COP25 climate talks summit in Madrid, Monday Dec. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) Bernat Armangue

Published: 12/2/2019 12:03:35 PM

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged countries Monday not to lose hope in the fight against climate change, as representatives from nearly 200 countries gathered in Madrid for a two-week meeting on tackling global warming.

In his opening speech to delegates, Guterres cited recent scientific data showing that levels of heat-trapping gases have hit a record high, reaching levels not seen for at least 3 million years when sea levels were 33 to 66 feet higher than today.

Unless emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are sharply cut, temperatures could rise to twice the threshold set in the 2015 Paris accord by the end of the century, he warned.

“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?” Guterres asked.

His appeal came after Chile’s environment minister, Carolina Schmidt, said the Dec. 2 to 13 meeting needs to lay the groundwork for moving toward carbon-neutral economies while being sensitive to the poorest and those most vulnerable to rising temperatures – something that policymakers have termed “just transition.”

“Those who don’t want to see it will be on the wrong side of history,” said Schmidt, who is chairing the meeting. She called on governments to make more ambitious pledges to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases ahead of a deadline to do so next year.

The summit, which moved to the Spanish capital after Chile had to pull out amid anti-government protests, aims to put the finishing touches to the rules governing the 2015 Paris accord.

That involves creating a functioning international emissions-trading system and compensating poor countries for losses they suffer from rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change.

“We have a common challenge but with differentiated needs and urgencies, which we can only overcome if we work together,” said Schmidt.

Countries agreed in Paris four years ago to limit global warming to well below 3.6 Fahrenheit, ideally 2.7 F by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times. Already, average temperatures have increased by about 1C, leaving little room for the more ambitious target to be met.

Guterres called out big greenhouse gas emitters that are still building coal-fired power plants, saying that unless the world stops burning coal “all our efforts to tackle climate change will be doomed.”

He noted that had countries started cutting their emissions drastically a decade ago, reaching the Paris goal would have been much easier.

“Ten years ago, if countries had acted on the science, they would have needed to reduce emissions by 3.3% each year,” he said. “Today, we need to reduce emissions by 7.6% each year.”

“The impact on all life on the planet – including ours – would be catastrophic,” he added. “The only solution is rapid, ambitious, transformative action by all – governments, regions, cities, businesses and civil society, all working toward a common goal.”

Organizers expect around 29,000 visitors at the meeting, including around 50 heads of state and government for Monday’s opening session.

In contrast to the European Union, which sent its newly sworn-in executive leadership team to the summit, the rest of the world’s largest carbon emitters – the United States, China and India – have sent lower-level ministers and officials.

The U.S. sent a delegation, led by Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, a senior State Department official, even though President Donald Trump has formally begun the process of pulling the country out of the Paris accord. However, that won’t be technically completed until Nov. 4, 2020.

But Democratic members of Congress led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the nation remains committed to the 2015 agreement’s goals and that climate change poses a threat to public health, the economy and national security.

“We’re still in it,” Pelosi said.

Asked about comments by Spain’s interim prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, that “only a handful of fanatics deny the evidence” of man-made global warming, Pelosi responded that she had “three words that describe how we address this: science, science and science. And maybe four: science, again.”

“If we can stick with the science, I think we can come up with some sane solutions to it all,” she said.

In an interview with the Associated Press, the U.N. chief hoped that stricter goals in Europe would allow EU leaders to convince fellow big polluters “to understand that this must be a collective effort and that they all will have to correct their policies in order to drastically be able to reduce the emissions.”




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