Climate crisis has ‘opened the gates to hell’, UN chief tells summit

UNITED NATIONS – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday told world leaders the climate crisis had “opened the gates to hell” during a summit where China and the United States were conspicuously absent.

He opened the UN climate ambition summit that was held in New York by criticising big polluters for not doing more to tackle global warming, saying that time was running short thanks to the “naked greed” of fossil fuel interests.

With the two-week UN climate summit, COP28, due to start on Nov 29 in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Mr Guterres and leaders from climate-vulnerable nations implored policymakers around the world to phase out climate-warming fossil fuels.

“The move from fossil fuels to renewables is happening – but we are decades behind,” Mr Guterres said at the start of the one-day summit. “We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”

The talks were partly overshadowed by an announcement from Britain – also not present – that it was rolling back policies that would help it achieve its net-zero goal.

Despite increasing extreme weather events and record-shattering global temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and fossil fuels remain subsidised to the tune of US$7 trillion (S$9.5 trillion) annually.

Mr Guterres had billed the Climate Ambition Summit as a “no-nonsense” forum, making clear that only leaders who had made concrete plans to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions would be invited.

In his opening address, he evoked 2023‘s “horrendous heat” and “historic fires,” but stressed: “We can still limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees (Celcius),” referring to the target seen as needed to avoid long-term climate catastrophe.

“Humanity has opened the gates to hell,” Mr Guterres warned.

Mr Guterres invited 34 countries to speak on Wednesday in recognition of their strong action on climate change, including Brazil, Canada, Pakistan, South Africa and the island nation of Tuvalu.

While some railed against the fossil fuel industry and countries’ continued reliance on oil, gas and coal, others highlighted the need to reform financial institutions to improve access to funding for developing nations.

From the Marshall Islands, a tropical South Pacific island nation facing land loss to rising seas, President David Kabua described his government’s struggle to prepare for a warmer world.

But “the boldest actions by my country alone are not enough,” he said. “Major emitters have failed to take these decisions, and so now we must prepare for relentless disaster.”

After receiving more than 100 applications to take part, the UN released a list of 41 speakers which did not include China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan or India.