World ‘way off course’ in climate change fight: UN chief Antonio Guterres

A woman carries her child near the Choluteca river following heavy rains in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Oct 7, 2018.
A woman carries her child near the Choluteca river following heavy rains in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Oct 7, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

KATOWICE, Poland (AFP, REUTERS) - The world is “way off course” in its plan to prevent catastrophic climate change, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday (Dec 3) as the COP24 summit officially opened in Poland.

After a string of damning environmental reports showing mankind must drastically slash its greenhouse gas emissions to avert runaway global warming, Mr Guterres told delegates “we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough”.

The nearly 200 nations that signed up to the 2015 Paris climate deal must this month finalise a rulebook to limit global temperature rises to well below two deg C, and to the safer cap of 1.5 deg C if possible.

But the rate of climate change is rapidly outstripping mankind’s response.

With just one deg C of warming so far, Earth is blighted by raging wildfires, extreme drought and mega-storms made worse by rising sea-levels.

“Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption,” Mr Guterres said.

Some of the nations most at risk from climate change had the chance on Monday to plead the case for immediate action.

Mr Frank Bainimarama, prime minister of Fiji and president of last year’s COP climate talks, said nations must act now to stave off disaster.

“Or, God forbid, (we) ignore the irrefutable evidence and become the generation that betrayed humanity,” he said.


The World Bank said on Monday it will give equal weight to curbing emissions and helping poor countries deal with the “disastrous effects” of a warming world as it steps up investments to tackle climate change in the first half of the 2020s. 

The bank and its two sister organisations plan to double their investments in climate action to about US$200 billion (S$273 billion) from 2021-2025, with a boost in support for efforts to adapt to higher temperatures, wilder weather and rising seas.

The latest figures on climate funding for developing countries show barely a quarter has been going to adaptation, with the bulk backing adoption of clean energy and more efficient energy use, aimed at cutting planet-warming emissions.

“We must fight the causes, but also adapt to the consequences that are often most dramatic for the world’s poorest people,” said World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva.

Of the US$100 billion the World Bank plans to make available in the five years from mid-2020, half would go to adaptation measures, it said.

Those include building more robust homes, schools and infrastructure, preparing farmers for climate shifts, managing water wisely and protecting people’s incomes through social safety nets, Dr Georgieva added.

British broadcaster and environmentalist David Attenborough, who was given a “People’s seat” on Monday the two-week climate conference in the Polish coal city of Katowice alongside two dozen heads of state and government, urged world leaders to get on and tackle “our greatest threat in thousands of years”.

“The continuation of our civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend, is in your hands,” said the naturalist.