Climate goal of 1.5C is ‘gasping for breath’, says UN head


The goal of limiting global heating to 1.5C is “gasping for breath”, the UN secretary general has said as he announced a “climate ambition summit” for September.

António Guterres said the summit would challenge leaders of governments and businesses to come up with “new, tangible and credible climate action to accelerate the pace of change” and confront the “existential threat” of the climate crisis.

“We are still moving in the wrong direction,” he said on Monday. “The 1.5C goal is gasping for breath. National climate plans are falling woefully short. And yet we are not retreating, we are fighting back.”

He added: “The invitation [to the summit] is open. But the price of entry is non-negotiable – serious new climate action that will move the needle forward. It will be a no-nonsense summit. No exceptions. There will be no room for backsliders, greenwashers, blame-shifters or repackaging of announcements of previous years.”

Guterres has become increasingly outspoken about the climate emergency, and the summit will put further pressure on countries to act.

A series of reports in October laid bare how close the planet is to irreversible climate catastrophe. Carbon emissions must fall by half by 2030 to have an even chance of limiting global heating to the internationally agreed 1.5C limit. But emissions in 2022 will set a record high.

Guterres pointed to some successes, including a “groundbreaking” agreement at the Cop27 summit in November on the issue of loss and damage, the now unavoidable impacts of climate-fuelled extreme weather and how to fund recovery in poorer countries.

He also pointed to multibillion-dollar deals between rich countries and Indonesia, South Africa and Vietnam to phase out their use of coal, the most polluting fossil fuel. “We are fighting back to help emerging economies shift away from coal and accelerate the renewable energy revolution,” he said.

Earlier this month, Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, said: “Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase as countries seek to capitalise on their energy security benefits. The world is set to add as much renewable power in the next five years as it did in the previous 20 years.”

The UN hosted a climate ambition summit in December 2020, after the Cop26 meeting was postponed by a year owing to Covid-19. The UN’s general assembly in New York each September has had an increasing focus on the climate crisis in recent years.