COP26: Stop treating nature like a toilet, UN secretary general António Guterres tells world leaders

Former Portuguese prime minister said ‘addiction’ to fossil fuels is ‘pushing humanity to the brink’

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Monday 01 November 2021 13:39
<p>UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 at SECC on November 1 2021</p>

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 at SECC on November 1 2021

The secretary general of the United Nations has told world leaders humanity must stop treating nature "like a toilet".

In a hard-hitting speech opening the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow António Guterres said "addiction" to fossil fuels was "pushing humanity to the brink".

Mr Guterres, who has held the position since 2017, said that some signs of progress were encouraging – and threw his support behind a "climate action army led by young people" – who he dubbed "unstoppable".

But the former Portuguese prime minister warned that current commitments by the nations attending the conference were not enough to avert catastrophe.

"We are still heading for climate disaster," he said. "Recent climate action announcements might give the impression that we are on track to turn things around. This is an illusion."

He told the audience of world leaders, including Boris Johnson: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink. We face a stark choice: Either we stop it — or it stops us.

“It’s time to say: enough. Enough of brutalising biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper,” said Mr Guterres, adding: “We are digging our own graves.”

Mr Guterres added: “The last published report on Nationally Determined Contributions showed that they would still condemn the world to a calamitous 2.7 degree increase.

"And even if the recent pledges were clear and credible — and there are serious questions about some of them — we are still careening towards climate catastrophe. Even in the best-case scenario, temperatures will rise well above two degrees."

He also pointed out that the years since the last crucial COP summit in Paris 2015 “have been the six hottest years on record”.

Leaders have gathered in Glasgow with the aim of thrashing out national contributions to the fight against carbon emissions – but scientists are sceptical they will go far enough to hit crucial targets.

Boris Johnson gave a keynote speech at the opening of the meeting on Monday in which he warned that future generations would react with anger if leaders did not turn the situation around.

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