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UN secretary-general António Guterres told world leaders that they were still “decades behind” in moving away from fossil fuels as he launched a scathing critique at the UN’s inaugural climate ambition day in New York.
“We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels,” Guterres told leaders as he kicked off a day-long climate summit held immediately after the UN’s general assembly.
“Humanity has opened the gates to hell,” he warned, noting that the world was on track for a 2.8C temperature rise since pre-industrial times.
The Paris Agreement, signed by almost 200 parties in 2015, agrees to limit the rise in global average temperatures to well under 2C and ideally to 1.5C.
In his address, Guterres called on the countries that had benefited the most from fossil fuels to make an “extra effort” to cut emissions, and criticised “shady pledges” from businesses and financial institutions on attempts to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Leaders from 34 governments along with seven non-government bodies, including Californian governor Gavin Newsom, London mayor Sadiq Khan, the World Bank president, the chief executive of insurer Allianz and the head of the UN’s Green Climate Fund, addressed the summit.
Several leaders directly attacked the fossil fuel industry, including Newsom, whose state is suing the major oil companies and accused them of “playing each and every one of us in this room for fools.”
“They’ve been buying off politicians. They’ve been denying and delaying science and fundamental information that they were privy to that they didn’t share or they manipulated. Their deceit and denial going back decades has created the conditions that persist here today,” he said.
The most prominent speakers were German chancellor Olaf Scholz and EU president Ursula von der Leyen, who brought more ambitious renewable energy commitments.
But China and the United States, the world’s biggest polluters, as well as India and Japan did not speak at the summit. The backtracking on green policies by the UK government, previously regarded as a climate leader, was also reflected in the absence of the prime minister, Rishi Sunak.
Other big polluters that were absent from the UN invitation to bring upgraded climate plans, and pledges to the Green Climate Fund, included fossil fuel reliant countries of South Korea, Australia and Norway.
But US president Joe Biden said in his address to the UN general assembly the previous day that the heatwaves, wildfires, droughts and flooding that had ravaged countries around the world in recent weeks told an “urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels”.
The world has experienced its hottest June to August season on record, and the world’s top scientists have warned that global warming is “more likely than not” in the near-term to reach a 1.5C rise since pre-industrial times.
This is distinct from a long-term rise in average temperatures of 1.5C that was set as a goal in the Paris climate accord in 2015. On this basis, the world has already warmed by 1.1C
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