United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the world is hurtling toward ecological destruction, sounding a bleak opening tone to the annual UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
Speaking a day after convening world leaders to ratchet up climate commitments, Guterres said Tuesday that the “climate alarm bells” are “ringing at fever pitch.” Calling current global efforts insufficient, he forecast a “hellscape of temperature rises” if emissions aren’t cut more than currently planned.
“We are weeks away from the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, but seemingly light-years away from reaching our targets,” Guterres told world leaders at the hybrid event where leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are speaking in person but others will appear by video. “We must get serious. And we must act fast.”
There were also hints of optimism on the climate front. Speaking on the sidelines of an event on the subject at the UN on Monday, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry expressed confidence that world leaders will meet a target of raising US$100 billion in climate aid to developing nations before the U.K. hosts two weeks of climate talks -- known as COP26 -- in Glasgow, Scotland, beginning Oct. 31.
“I think we’re going to get it done by COP,” Kerry told reporters. “The U.S. will do its part,” he said. “I’m not hoping. I’m telling you to stay tuned to the president’s speech.”
Guterres also decried the global vaccine inequity that has left rich countries with surplus doses and considering booster shots even as developing nations have barely started vaccinating their populations.
“Perhaps one image tells the tale of our times,” he said. “The picture we have seen from some parts of the world of Covid-19 vaccines in the garbage, expired and unused. It is an obscenity.”
Reviewing the mistrust and lack of unity he says have undermined global efforts to address covid and climate, Guterres said, “Instead of the path of solidarity, we are on a dead end to destruction.” While millions go hungry, Guterres said, they see “billionaires joyriding to space.”
The UNGA continues into next week. Biden will host a virtual summit on Wednesday that will focus on concrete measures to bring the pandemic to an end. In addition to the U.S. president, speakers at Tuesday’s opening day include Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is also attending in person, and China’s Xi Jinping, who has sent in a video message.