A “moment of truth” for climate action says UN Secretary-General

05 June 2024

Now is the “moment of truth” for climate action, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres as he laid out a sweeping blueprint for cuts in emissions, strengthening resilience, reforming financial flows and tackling the fossil fuel industry.

Mr Guterres cited a new WMO report predicting even more record temperatures in the next five years, and on new data from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service that the past 12 months were the hottest eve, with temperatures more than 1.6 °C above the pre-industrial era.

“We are playing Russian roulette with our planet,” said Mr Guterres.  “We need an exit ramp off the highway to climate hell.  And the good news is that we have control of the wheel.  The battle to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees will be won or lost in the 2020s – under the watch of leaders today.”

“We have what we need to save ourselves. Our forests, our wetlands, and our oceans absorb carbon from the atmosphere. They are vital to keeping 1.5 alive, or pulling us back if we do overshoot that limit. We must protect them,” he said in a major speech at the American Museum of Natural History which was broadcast around the world

“And we have the technologies we need to slash emissions. Renewables are booming as costs plummet and governments realize the benefits of cleaner air, good jobs, energy security, and increased access to power,” he said.

Every fraction of a degree of global heating counts, he said. 

“The difference between 1.5 and two degrees could be the difference between extinction and survival for some small island states and coastal communities. The difference between minimizing climate chaos or crossing dangerous tipping points. 1.5 degrees is not a target. It is not a goal. It is a physical limit.”

“Scientists have alerted us that temperatures rising higher would likely mean: The collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with catastrophic sea level rise; Destruction of tropical coral reef systems and the livelihoods of 300 million people; Collapse of the Labrador Sea Current that would further disrupt weather patterns in Europe; And widespread permafrost melt that would release devastating levels of methane, one of the most potent heat-trapping gasses,” said Mr Guterres.

He set out a five-point plan of action.

Promo graphic for "Special Address on Climate Action: A Moment of Truth" by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, featuring an illustration of Earth with leaves and bold text.

Huge cuts in emissions. Led by the huge emitters

The G20 countries produce eighty percent of global emissions – they have the responsibility, and the capacity, to be out in front. Advanced G20 economies should go furthest, fastest, he said.

Early warnings should protect every person on Earth by 2027 through the Early Warnings for All action plan, which is championed by WMO.

For every dollar needed to adapt to extreme weather, only about five cents is available. As a first step, all developed countries must honour their commitment to double adaptation finance to at least $40 billion a year by 2025, he said.

Finance. The global financial system must be part of the climate solution. Eye-watering debt repayments are drying up funds for climate action. Extortion-level capital costs are putting renewables virtually out of reach for most developing and emerging economies, he said.

Fossil fuels must be phased out by ending financial subsidies, disinvestment, curtailing advertizing and ending misinformation. Fossil fuel companies must use the massive profits to lead the energy transition. 

“Now is the time to mobilise, now is the time to act, now is the time to deliver. This is our moment of truth,” said Mr Guterres.