‘Death and devastation’ if govts don’t act on climate change, warns UN chief
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‘Death and devastation’ if govts don’t act on climate change, warns UN chief

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned Monday of “disastrous consequences” if governments don’t take serious action against climate change in the next two years.

Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York, Guterres cited the recent floods in Kerala, India, the wildfires in California, and the 3,000 deaths from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as examples of the extreme weather that is “leaving a trail of death and devastation.”

“Climate change is the defining issue of our time – and we are at a defining moment,” he said.

“If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.”

Despite having decades of warning about the dangers of climate change, leaders have refused to listen and failed to act, he said.

World leaders who signed the Paris agreement on climate change in 2015 committed to a series of measures to limit global temperature rises to less than two degrees Celsius and to below 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.

But recent studies show the world is off track and likely to miss that target, and the world’s second-biggest polluter – the United States – has shown little interest in curbing emissions.

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US President Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement soon after he was inaugurated last year. The UN fears America’s withdrawal could prompt backsliding from other member countries, such as Australia, one of the world’s worst per capita greenhouse gas polluters, which has scrapped plans to enshrine targets for reducing carbon emissions into law.

Guterres plans to press this point when he addresses world leaders at their annual General Assembly gathering in two weeks. He will tell them “that climate change is the great challenge of our time” and what is missing is leadership and a sense of urgency to respond.

A recent UN study said commitments under the Paris agreement represent just a third of what is needed to meet the target of a cooler planet, said Guterres.

“The mountain in front of us is very high,” he said. “But it is not insurmountable.

“Put simply, we need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action.”

The UN chief described the upcoming UN climate summit in the Polish city of Katowice as a “key moment” when leaders will be asked to “show they care about the people whose fate they hold in their hands.”

Additional reporting by AFP.