UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged countries Monday not to lose hope in the fight against climate change, as representatives from nearly 200 countries gathered in Madrid for a two-week meeting on tackling global warming.
In his opening speech to delegates, Guterres cited recent scientific data showing that levels of heat-trapping gases have hit a record high, reaching levels not seen for at least 3 million years when sea levels were 10-20 metres (33-66 feet) higher than today.
Unless emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are sharply cut, temperatures could rise to twice the threshold set in the 2015 Paris accord by the end of the century, he warned.
“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand that fiddled while the planet burned?” Guterres asked.
His appeal came after Chile’s environment minister, Carolina Schmidt, said the December 2-13 meeting needs to lay the groundwork for moving toward carbon-neutral economies while being sensitive to the poorest and those most vulnerable to rising temperatures — something that policymakers have termed “just transition.”
“Those who don’t want to see it will be on the wrong side of history,” said Schmidt, who is chairing the meeting. She called on governments to make more ambitious pledges to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases ahead of a deadline to do so next year.
The summit, which moved to the Spanish capital after Chile had to pull out amid anti-government protests, aims to put the finishing touches to the rules governing the 2015 Paris accord.