The planet’s on ‘red alert’ UN chief warns leaders at President Biden’s climate summit

World leaders must act now and put the planet on a green path because “we are at the verge of the abyss”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Thursday in his address to the virtual climate summit convened by United States President Joseph Biden.

April 24, 2021

NOAA/Jerry PenryScientists believe that climate change is causing an increase in extreme weather events.


By UN News

“Mother Nature is not waiting”, the UN chief warned, as the past decade was the hottest on record, and the world continues to see rising sea-levels, scorching temperatures, devastating tropical cyclones and epic wildfires. 


“We need a green planet — but the world is on red alert,” he said.  “We are at the verge of the abyss.  We must make sure the next step is in the right direction.  Leaders everywhere must take action.”  

US commitment and investment 

The Secretary-General thanked President Biden for hosting the two-day Leaders Summit on Climate, and applauded US commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

In his introductory remarks, President Biden announced the country would slash emissions in half, by 2030.  He spoke of the “extraordinary job creation and economic opportunity” that climate response provides, proposing investments in sectors such as energy, transportation, construction and farming. 

President Biden acknowledged that no nation can solve the climate emergency alone, and he called for leaders of the world’s largest economies to “step up” in the race to a sustainable future. 

“Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade.  This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” he said. 

Net-zero coalition 

Mr. Guterres used the Summit to amplify his call for a global coalition to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and for countries to ramp up their commitments under the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change.  

The 2015 treaty aims to limit global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and requires governments to commit to increasingly ambitious climate action through plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden.

“All countries – starting with major emitters – should submit new and more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions for mitigation, adaptation and finance, laying out actions and policies for the next 10 years aligned with a 2050 net-zero pathway”, he said. 

These commitments also must be translated into “concrete, immediate action”, he added, as it is estimated that less than a quarter of pandemic recovery spending will go towards mitigating emissions, reducing air pollution or strengthening natural capital.  

Borrowing from the future 

“The trillions of dollars needed for COVID-19 recovery is money we are borrowing from future generations.  We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden them with a mountain of debt on a broken planet.” 

The UN chief appealed for leaders to “put a price on carbon” through taxation.  He called for ending subsidies for fossil fuels and instead, ramping up investment in renewable energy and green infrastructure.  

“Stop the financing of coal and the building of new coal power plants. Phase out coal by 2030 in the wealthiest countries, and by 2040 everywhere else.  Ensure a just transition for affected people and communities”, he said. 

Step up financing 

Building the global net zero coalition will require a breakthrough in both finance and adaption, the Secretary-General said.  He urged donors, as well as banks, to move from 20 to 50 per cent in all climate finance flows to resilience and adaptation. 

“Before the United Nations climate conference in November in Glasgow, we need concrete proposals that ease access to greater finance and technological support for the most vulnerable countries,” he added. 

“Developed States must deliver on public climate finance, including the long-promised US $100 billion for climate action in developing countries, at the G7 Summit in June.” 

Growing danger 

The head of the UN climate convention body (UNFCCC) Patricia Espinosa, issued a statement on the Summit, noting that the global climate change emergency was “a clear, present and growing danger to all people on this planet. 

“It recognizes no borders and while nations may be impacted differently, none are immune”, she said. “This is a time for leadership, courage and solidarity by global leaders; a time they must make the tough decisions necessary to finally fulfill the promises of the Paris Agreement and move the world away from disaster and towards an unprecedented era of growth, prosperity and hope for all.



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