The war in Ukraine is not only creating global economic turmoil but is also threatening international efforts to tackle climate change, according to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The UN chief spoke to Euronews on the sidelines of the five-day UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon. Over 7000 participants have descended on the Portuguese capital to take part in the ocean summit. With the message, 'Save our Ocean, Protect our Future', the gathering aims to serve as a call to action for policy-makers to reverse the decline in ocean health.
When questioned about how the battle against climate change could be put back at the top of the international agenda, Guterres told Euronews' Sérgio Ferreira de Almeida that it was about raising the issue as much as possible on all fronts.
"If you look at the war in Ukraine, the war in Ukraine demonstrates how important it would have been if in the last decades we had invested massively in renewable energy. If that had happened, we would not be today at the mercy of the fossil fuel industry with prices that are extremely high, as you know, and undermining the quality of life of people and undermining the situation of many developing countries. So if the war in Ukraine demonstrates something, [it] is that we need to accelerate the green transition, which means we need to fight climate change much more effectively."
Guterres also described the recent move by countries to accelerate investment in fossil fuels as suicide.
"That is suicide and I hope that people will understand that suicide is not exactly the best way to face the future."
Global food security
On the issue of global food security and access to the Black Sea, the Secretary-General insisted the UN was working hard to broker a deal between Russia and Ukraine with the help of Turkey to enable the export of Ukrainian grain from its ports.
"In relation to the access from Ukrainian ports, that is exactly what the UN plan, that was presented to the Russians, to the Ukrainians, with the support of Turkey aims at and we hope that it will be possible soon to have in Istanbul a meeting of the four, based on the different consultations that have been made, namely at bilateral level by the military of these three countries, we hope that it will be possible to come to an agreement allowing for the export of the Ukrainian grains. And at the same time, that the international countries facilitate the exports of Russian food and fertilisers, since it is true that there are no sanctions applied to foods and fertilisers, but there are complexities in shipping, in insurance, in payments that need to be addressed. And that is why we have been in close contact with European Union, with the United States and with Russia to be able also to have a package deal involving the access of both Ukrainian and Russian food and fertiliser products to the global markets."
On the opening day of the Ocean Conference Guterres warned that coastal ecosystems are dying due to the climate crisis and called on countries to do more to address ocean plastic pollution. He also apologised to the world's younger generations, blaming his own generation for the environmental crisis the world now faces.
"My generation is responsible for the fact that we are at war with nature, that we have the climate change that the situation is not under control. We should be reducing emissions these decades dramatically. And the forecast, based on the present commitments by the member states all over the world, would still represent in 2030 an increase in emissions, which is suicidal, totally unacceptable. And in relation to the oceans, we are still losing the battle of the preservation of our oceans, in relation to the [warming] and the acidity caused by climate change, the loss of corals, the loss of biodiversity, overfishing, plastic pollution, other forms of [toxin] pollution that make several coastal areas being totally without life. I mean, we are still losing the battle of the preservation of the oceans and this needs to be reversed. My generation as a matter of fact was not able, or not willing to detect when it was necessary to detect that the situation was getting out of control."
Asked about his hopes for the future and whether he remains optimistic that the climate crisis will be addressed before it's too late, Guterres said.
"It is not a matter of optimism or pessimism. I am determined to do everything I can to make world leaders in politics, but also in the economic sector… let's not forget that the fossil fuel industry has spent billions and billions during decades with pseudoscience and with public relations and in all kinds of lobbying to try to convince the world that climate change was not so serious and that the fossil fuels were not creating the problems that they are creating. A little bit like the tobacco industry did a few decades before. So economic leaders also have a huge responsibility. And all of them, political leaders, economic leaders need to understand that we are in an emergency and that emergency requires drastic measures."
_To watch the full interview, click on the video player above_