The Slatest

U.N. Chief Warns “Point of No Return” on Climate Change “Is in Sight”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gives a press conference in Madrid, on December 1, 2019.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gives a press conference in Madrid, on December 1, 2019.
CRISTINA QUICLER/Getty Images

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres isn’t mincing words when it comes to issuing a dire warning about the global climate crisis, saying that the effort to stop climate change has been “utterly inadequate.” Speaking on the eve of a two-week international climate conference in Madrid, Guterres warned that the effects of climate change were already being felt. “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” Guterres said. “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”

Although there is enough expertise and knowledge to limit global warming, “what is lacking is political will,” Guterres said. In order to combat the crisis, “Our war against nature must stop,” he added. And that involves changing the old ways of doing things. “We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” he said.

Delegates from around the world will be meeting in Madrid until Dec. 13 to try to agree on rules for implementing the 2015 Paris climate accord. So far the cuts in emissions that have been agreed to are not enough to meet the goal of limiting temperature rises to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius (2.7-3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Even though some 70 countries have agreed to stop emitting greenhouse gases by 2050, there is a lack of commitment form some of the biggest offenders. “We also see clearly that the world’s largest emitters are not pulling their weight. And without them, our goal is unreachable,” he said.

President Donald Trump has said he intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement and his administration’s lack of interest in the issue is evident from the delegation that will be representing the country in Madrid. No senior members of Trump’s administration will be part of the U.S. delegation that will be led by Marcia Bernicat, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. Even though the United States plans to withdraw from the Paris accord, it “will continue to participate in ongoing climate change negotiations and meeting—such as COP25—to ensure a level playing field that protects U.S. interests,” the State Department said Saturday. In an effort to raise the U.S. profile at the Madrid summit there will also be a congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that will seek to “reaffirm the commitment of the American people to combating the climate crisis.”