The Geneva Observer
December 3, 2020
This article was first published as part of our newsletter briefing sent out on Thursday December 3, 2020. Sign up to our newsletter to get our content the moment it's published, straight in your inbox.
That was UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ blunt assessment at an address to New York’s Columbia University. “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back—and it is already doing so with growing force and fury.,” the UN chief argued forcefully.
His address came on the back of a UN Environment Programme report which found that as things stand, countries are on track to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement call for a 1.5°C temperature limit. Additionally, a World Meteorological Organization’s “State of the Climate Report” said that 2020 was set be one of the warmest years on record, while the warmest six years recorded have all been since 215. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has also just published a report identifying climate change as the biggest threat to natural World Heritage, threatening as it does a third of natural World Heritage sites.
Guterres’ remarks launch a month-long push of UN Climate actions. Next up is the Climate Summit on December 12 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Accords—a more positive affair given the expectation of the US’ return to the fold. But behind the scenes, discussions are already ongoing. For example, to finalise UNEP’s “Beyond 2020” Biodiversity and Chemicals and Waste frameworks. The UN had set itself a goal of achieving the sound management of chemicals and minimize their adverse effects on human health and the environment by 2020. It’s been clear for several years that those targets would not be reached and decisions on how to move forward were expected to be taken this year, however COVID-19 related delays mean the dialogue continues until 2021.
For Guterres, the pandemic is an opportunity for the world to reset (read our piece on the Battle for Lake Geneva over where the reset is defined) in a more equitable and just way, reducing its carbon footprint and stopping the biodiversity crisis. “The door is open; the solutions are there. … I have detailed an emergency, but I also see hope.”
Joe Biden has made fighting climate change a priority of his campaign and he’s staying on course during his transition. The US’ return to the Paris Agreement will undoubtedly change the dynamics, particularly if China implements its most ambitious decarbonization program ever, recently announced by Xi Jinping. In a piece you can read on our website, Erik Berglöf, Chief economist of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank assesses the credibility of Beijing’s plan and its importance in a changing global context.