UN chief warns failure to tackle global warming 'suicidal' as climate talks stall in Poland

Lack of agreement at COP24 event in Poland 'would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change', says secretary-general

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Thursday 13 December 2018 13:03
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UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has returned to the COP24 conference after speaking at the opening event the previous week
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has returned to the COP24 conference after speaking at the opening event the previous week

Failure to reach an agreement on climate change would be “suicidal”, a UN chief has warned in a dramatic intervention as major international discussions draw to a close.

Secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned attendees from almost 200 nations at the COP24 meeting in Poland that such a conclusion “means sacrifices, but it will benefit us all”.

A group of countries including the EU have pledged to enhance their climate plans before 2020, in response to fresh scientific warnings about the dangers of global warming.

However, other aspects of the talks have seen slow progress, and Mr Guterres’ return after opening the conference last week was seen as a sign of how fraught the situation had become.

Guterres said failure in the talks “would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change”.

“It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.”

The secretary-general cited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s key report concluding emissions must be cut rapidly within just 12 years to keep warming below 1.5C.

Over the weekend, a bloc of oil-producing countries made up of the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were accused of stalling progress by objecting to the findings of that report.

Mr Guterres’ call came after the two-week meeting in the coal-mining city of Katowice shifted from the technical phase of discussions to the final political phase, when ministers took over negotiations.

The aim of the summit is to produce a “rulebook” that nations can follow to implement the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

While progress has been made in formulating the rulebook, with a draft text expected on Thursday, it has been marred by disagreements.

Campaigners also warned the current version contains too many loopholes to be effective.

Other issues that have seen disappointing progress are commitments to increase the ambition of emissions cuts, and to provide financial support for poor nations so they can prepare for climate change.

Environmentalists accused powerful players such as the EU of not pushing hard enough for an agreement.

“A new leadership must step up,” said Vanessa Perez-Cirera from WWF.

“We cannot afford to lose one of the 12 years we have remaining.”

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Mr Guterres said while he and most people attending the conference would not be alive by the end of the century, children today would see the full impact of uncontrolled climate change.

“I do not want my granddaughters or anybody else’s to suffer the consequences of our failures,” he said.

“They would not forgive us if uncontrolled and spiralling climate change would be our legacy to them.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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