COP26: Enough of treating nature like a toilet, UN chief warns

UN chief Guterres speaking at COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland

By Cecilia Ologunagba

UN Secretary General António Guterres has sent a stark message to world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow, warning that enough of treating nature like a toilet.

Guterres said on Day two of that summit that the world would be digging its own grave if it does not stop practices that harm the environment.

The UN chief took the podium with a blunt opening message: “The six years since the Paris Climate Agreement have been the six hottest years on record. Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink”

“We face a stark choice. Either we stop it – or it stops us.

“Enough of brutalising biodiversity, killing ourselves with carbon, treating nature like a toilet, burning, and drilling and mining our way deeper,” he said.

“We are digging our own graves”, Guterres said, adding that our planet is changing before our eyes from melting glaciers, to relentless extreme weather events.

He reminded that sea-level rise is double the rate it was 30 years ago, that oceans are hotter than ever, and that parts of the Amazon Rainforest now emit more carbon than they absorb.

The UN chief called for greater ambition on mitigation and immediate concrete action to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030; an effort that should be led by developed countries.

“G20 countries have a particular responsibility as they represent around 80 per cent of emissions,” he said, making clear, however, that emerging economies must also go the extra mile.

“We need maximum ambition – from all countries on all fronts – to make Glasgow a success,” he added.

Guterres urged nations to build coalitions to create the financial and technological conditions to accelerate decarbonisation of the economy and the phase out of coal.

Also, referring to a key negotiating issue during this COP26, the Secretary-General said that countries must revisit their national climate plans and policies, not every five years, but every year, if commitments fall short by the end of COP26.

“There is a deficit of credibility and a surplus of confusion over emissions reductions and net zero targets, with different meanings and different metrics,’’ he said.

The UN chief announced the establishment of a Group of Experts to propose clear standards to measure and analyse net zero commitments from non-state actors.

Guterres highlighted that adaption measures work, and that early warning systems as well as climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure, save lives and jobs.

“All donors must allocate half their climate finance to adaptation. Public and multilateral development banks should start as soon as possible,” he said.

The UN chief reiterated his call for a 100 billion dollars climate finance commitment in support of developing countries, to become a reality.

He said delivering on that promise made at COP15 in Copenhagen, was critical to restore trust and credibility, but beyond that, developing countries need far greater resources to fight COVID-19, build resilience and pursue sustainable development.

“Those suffering the most – namely, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – need urgent funding. More public climate finance. More overseas development aid. More grants. Easier access to funding,” he urged.

The secretary-general said the private sector is also waking up and building new alliances to catalyse change.

“The climate action army – led by young people – is unstoppable. They are larger. They are louder. And, I assure you, they are not going away. I stand with them,” he said.

Guterres warned that we are fast approaching tipping points that will trigger escalating feedback loops of global heating, but investing in the net zero, climate-resilient economy, will create feedback loops of its own — virtuous circles of sustainable growth, jobs and opportunity.

“On behalf of this and future generations, I urge you: Choose ambition. Choose solidarity. Choose to safeguard our future and save humanity,” he concluded.

Later in the day as leaders made national statements, U.S. President Joe Biden, said that world leaders could keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees if they come together and commit.

“Glasgow must be the kick-off of a decade of ambition and innovation to preserve our shared future,” he said, reminding that climate change is already costing nations millions of lives and dollars.

The US leader said that his country would be announcing new commitments over the next few days to mobilise action. These will include measures on the agriculture, oil and gas, and forestry sectors.

He also announced that he would release soon a long-term plan enabling the US to become net zero by 2050.

“We’re still falling short…there is no more time to hang back or sit on the fence or argue amongst ourselves. This is a challenge of our collective lifetime,” he emphasised.