UN chief says world faces fight for its life over climate change

António Guterres addresses two-day conference in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, June 30, 2019.   Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting at the Emirates Palace.--
António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations.
Section:  NA
Reporter:  John Dennehy
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The UN Secretary-General has told a major climate change conference that the world faces a battle for its survival.

António Guterres said despite the existential threat, not everyone was confronting the problem with due focus.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, Mr Guterres also made an impassioned call for greater support to help develop the green economy.

“The world is facing a grave climate emergency – disruption is happening now and faster than top scientists predict,” he said.

“Every week brings more devastation, floods, drought and…superstorms. All around the world, people are losing their homes and forced to migrate.

“The situation only gets worse and we must act now with urgency. We have no time to lose.”

Mr Guterres’ comments came on the opening day of the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting.

The two-day event aims to address what campaigners believe are critical dangers posed by the threat of global warming.

More than a thousand government ministers, energy experts and business leaders are expected to attend the conference in the UAE capital this week.

Officials hope the event will help accelerate efforts in combating climate change, as agreed by 186 member states under the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The long-term objective of the initiative is to limit a global average temperature increase to 1.5°C.

Yet experts have warned that within a decade the world faces increases of more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels if countries fail to act.

Only this weekend, France experienced an all-time temperature high of 45.8°C, coinciding with a heatwave across Europe.

Mr Guterres said that, despite the overwhelming evidence, many countries, companies and individuals failed to see the urgency.

He said the world needed to tax pollution, stop building coal power plants and cease subsidising fossil fuels.

“My message is clear and simple: we are in battle for our lives but it is a battle we can win,” he said. “Here in Abu Dhabi we are facing in the right direction.”

Abu Dhabi has been historically known for using and producing fossil fuels. But its hosting of such a major summit has now put it on a trajectory towards a greener future. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, met Mr Guterres on Sunday and pledged his support to tackle climate change. And two huge announcements by Abu Dhabi over the past two days underlined its commitment to switching to a green economy.

Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, announced a commitment to a new 2gigawatts solar project in Al Dhafra region that will eclipse the record-breaking 1GW Noor Abu Dhabi Plant already in operation. Renewable energy accounts for about 25 per cent of the world’s electricity. The UAE generates less than 5 per cent of its electricity through renewables with most coming from solar parks in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. But this is now expected to increase sharply.

"Sometimes we are too shy to say we are diversifying the energy mix," said Dr Al Zeyoudi. "We have to capitalise on hydrocarbons and also diversify," he said. "There is a certain time when it will be gone and we don’t want to keep delaying this until it is too late."

The Abu Dhabi conference, meanwhile, aims to lay the groundwork for a UN climate summit in New York this September that seeks to ramp up efforts to implement the Paris deal. And across Emirates Palace's network of conference rooms, foyers and corridors, there was a tangible urgency to get things done.

Rory Stewart, the UK's international development secretary, said he sensed a fresh urgency at the meeting, while Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Development Programme, said time was not on the world's side.

Mr Guterres wants all leaders to present plans at the New York summit or latest by December 2020 on how they will cut greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and get to carbon neutrality by 2050. The September summit is also expected to prepare for the UN's major climate change meeting this December in Chile.

Crucial to the success the September summit is money, particularly helping poorer countries deal with climate change. "That means reaching the goal of $100 billion dollars per year, from public and private sources, for mitigation and adaptation in the developing world," said Mr Guterres.

Galvanising the world's youth is also central to fighting climate change. Shamma Al Mazrui, the UAE’s Minister of State for Youth Affairs and the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, spoke on Sunday about how the world's youngsters were leading the green energy movement. In response, Mr Guterres called on the world's youth to lead the change.

The Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting concludes on Monday.