United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened Monday’s Climate Action Summit with a call to action: “The climate crisis comes from us and the solutions must come from us.”
Speaking from UN headquarters in New York City, Guterres rejected talk on climate change and insisted world leaders go beyond words.
“This is not a climate negotiation summit because we do not negotiate with nature. This is a climate action summit,” he said.
Guterres described alarming signs of climate change that are already in play, from expansion of deserts to acidification of oceans.
He described increasingly frequent and more deadly storms, such as Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, where he called the destruction “apocalyptic”.
“Make no mistake, when we see these images, we are not just seeing damage, we are seeing the future if we do not act,” he said.
In the Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu, he described “an entire country fighting for its very existence against the rising seas”.
Guterres’ opening comments were followed by emotional remarks from 16‑year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who did not hold back in her comments to world leaders.
“My message is that we’ll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be in school on the other side of the ocean, yet you come to us young people for hope. How dare you,” she said.
“If you fail us, we will never forgive you. … We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. Change is coming whether you like it or not.”
Guterres reminded the General Assembly that any temperature rise above 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels will lead to major and irreversible damage to the world’s ecosystems. Unmitigated, he forecast 3°C of heating by end of century.
Despite the urgency of Monday’s comments, he said the world still has time to act, but communities must reform how they operate. He called on leaders to restructure food systems, how imports and exports are fuelled and how economies are run.
He decried coal power plants, stating, “We are in a deep climate hole and to get out, we must stop digging.”
Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine described the vulnerability of low-lying island nations, calling the effects of climate change the greatest threat to security.
“This summit must be the moment we choose survival over selfishness, communities over coal and planet over profit,” she said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke at the summit on Monday, where she announced increased financial commitments to fight climate change, plans to phase out coal and to transform the transportation sector. By 2030, Germany aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 55% from the 1990 baseline.