WorldAntónio Guterres: “Enough of treating nature as a toilet. We are...

António Guterres: “Enough of treating nature as a toilet. We are digging our graves”


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UN Secretary General António Guterres this Monday morning in Glasgow.POOL (Reuters)

The secretary general of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, warned world leaders present at the opening ceremony of the Glasgow summit that humanity is “digging” its own grave because of the increasing pace of gas emissions greenhouse in which human beings have been immersed since the Industrial Revolution. “Enough of treating nature like a toilet,” he said. “Enough of burning, drilling and mining our way,” he added, referring to fossil fuels, the main responsible for these emissions and for feeding the world economy since the Industrial Revolution.

The Glasgow summit had its most political day on Monday, with speeches by top world leaders. It was preceded by a shadow of pessimism and disappointment, after the countries that make up the G-20 (responsible for 80% of global emissions) limited themselves in Rome to reaffirm the global commitment against climate change agreed to six years ago in Paris, without give more details or demonstrate greater ambition. The various speeches heard throughout the day confirmed that there are still long days of negotiation and diplomacy for this summit to be successful. Aside from India’s specific announcement to place its carbon neutrality target at 2070 (twenty years behind the US, UK and EU and ten years behind China), most interventions were urgent rhetoric, with no new commitments concrete.

Guterres urged the 120 or so world leaders present at the Glasgow summit to continually review their plans to cut emissions. “Not every five years. Each year.” This is because the efforts that are on the table now, although they have been revised in many cases, are insufficient. The objective of the Paris Agreement is to ensure that the temperature rise remains between 1.5 and 2 degrees from pre-industrial levels. This is the safety cushion that science provides to prevent the most disastrous warming. But the planet is already 1.1 degrees warmer than before the Industrial Revolution, and the cut plans that the nearly 200 signatory nations of the Paris Agreement have put forward lead to an increase of about 2.7 degrees.

“Countries need to review their national climate plans and policies,” insisted Guterres. “Until it’s guaranteed to stay at 1.5 degrees, until fossil fuel subsidies end, until there’s a price for carbon dioxide, and until coal is phased out.”

“It’s a minute to midnight,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned summit attendees. The UK presides over COP26, the biggest diplomatic gamble of the post-Brexit era. In recent days, the British government has been trying to step up pressure so that the summit in Glasgow does not end up being a failure. “We have to move from the statements and debate phase to real and coordinated action around the world on coal, cars, finance and trees,” Johnson said. A government like yours, so given to slogans, found the perfect match for this summit: Coal, Cars, Cash and Trees (Coal, Cars, Money and Trees). That is, an acceleration of the definitive end of coal consumption; consistent advances for electric vehicles; more funding for the emerging nations’ energy transition effort; and more reforestation to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “The promises the world made six years ago in Paris are starting to sound pretty hollow,” Johnson warned in Rome on Sunday.

These are some of the concrete commitments that the UN has been asking countries for years in order to face up to warming. And from the Glasgow Summit it is hoped that promises to abandon coal or set an expiry date for combustion cars may emerge. In addition, as Guterres recalled, it is necessary to complete what is stipulated in the Paris Agreement. Specifically, that the application of Article 6, which refers to carbon markets as a tool to combat warming, be completed.

long term goals

During this summit, the number of countries committed to achieving zero net emissions by mid-century is also expected to increase. This means that they could only emit gases that can be absorbed by nature (forests and oceans) or by technologies that are now experimental. Achieving zero emissions by mid-century is precisely the path that the Paris Agreement outlines for warming to remain between 1.5 and 2 degrees. Shortly before the start of the summit, the United States presented its plan to meet this goal by 2050. “Right now, we are falling short. There is no more time to waste arguing between us”, said the President of the United States, Joe Biden, who emphasized to other countries that Washington is once again a key player in the fight against climate change, after the setback that the Administration of Donald Trump represented.

But Biden has announced no new commitments beyond the 2030 cuts his government has already put on the table at an international summit held in April to symbolize America’s return to the fight against climate change. As he did at the time, Biden this Monday in Glasgow presented the fight against climate change as an opportunity to create thousands of jobs. “Not just in the US, but in all countries,” he added.

China and Russia, whose presidents decided not to participate in this summit, also pledged to achieve neutrality of emissions, even in 2060. And Brazil, one of the countries most criticized at the moment on the climate issue, also presented a text this Sunday in which states that it will reach neutrality of emissions in 2050. Guterres recalled on Monday that “there is a deficit of credibility and an excess of confusion about emission reduction and zero emission targets, with different meanings and different metrics”. Because many promise emission neutrality by 2050 or 2060 without a clear path to reduce their greenhouse gases in this decade.

While the Paris Agreement is primarily concerned with the actions to be taken by committed states, many companies and public bodies also promise net zero emissions. As with countries, in many cases these advertisements are unclear and it is feared that they are mere advertising strategies. Guterres explained in his speech on Monday that he will form “a group of experts to propose clear standards for measuring and analyzing the net zero emissions commitments of non-state participants.”

Mitigation of emissions is the central focus of these summits. But the other big facet of the discussion is financing to combat climate change, whereby developed countries, the main causes of global warming due to their historic emissions, must economically help the poorest states. The commitment was to reach 100 billion dollars (567 billion reais) of climate finance by 2020. But in 2019, according to OECD calculations, 79.6 billion were mobilized. And a recent report led by Germany and Canada recognizes that the 100 billion target will not be reached before 2023. In addition, many non-governmental organizations question the incidence of these funds and criticize that the vast majority of the amount corresponds to loans and not non-repayable aid.

This unfulfilled promise makes some developing countries that emit increasingly reluctant to put on the table ambitious targets for reducing their gases, as is the case of India. Guterres assured that “it is essential to restore confidence and credibility” that the 100 billion target is reached.

India promises zero net emissions by 2070

In 2019, four large blocks accumulated more than 50% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to estimates by analysts from the Rhodium Group. China was the main emitter, with 27% of the total, followed by the United States (11%), India (6.6%) and the European Union (6.4%). Of these four blocks, only India needed to update its emission reduction plans. And its prime minister, Narendra Modi, made the announcement during his speech at the climate summit. Modi has promised that by 2030 India will increase its clean energy electricity generation capacity to 50% (the previous target was 40%). He also said that the country will reduce its carbon intensity by 45% by 2030 (the previous target was 35%).

Modi said India had decided to increase its commitments even though developed countries had failed to deliver on their pledges of financial aid. Regarding the long-term goals, Modi announced that his country will achieve neutrality of emissions in 2070. The United States and the European Union guarantee that they will do so in 2050 and China has set a 2060 goal. India’s goal is less ambitious, but also part of a complicated situation in which a significant part of its population does not even have access to electricity. “We are 17% of the population, but we emit only 5% of all greenhouse gases,” recalled Modi.

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