Countries scrambling to replace Russian oil, gas and coal supplies with any available alternative may fuel the world’s “mutually assured destruction” through climate change, the head of the United Nations warned on Monday.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy now being pursued by major economies to end fossil fuel imports from Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine could kill hopes of keeping global warming below dangerous levels.
“Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use,” he said at an event organized by the Economist weekly.
“This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction.”
Germany, one of Russia's biggest energy customers, wants to increase its supply of oil from the Gulf and speed up the building of terminals to receive liquefied natural gas.
In the United States, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki earlier this month said the war in Ukraine was a reason for American oil and gas producers to "go get more supply out of the ground in our own country.”
Now is the time to decarbonise
Guterres said that “instead of hitting the brakes on the decarbonisation of the global economy, now is the time to put the pedal to the metal towards a renewable energy future.”
His comments came as scientists on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change began a two-week meeting to finalize their latest report about the world's efforts to curb emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases.
A separate report, released last month, found half of humanity is already at serious risk from climate change and this will increase with each tenth of a degree of warming.
Guterres said the Paris climate accord's goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius was “on life support” because countries aren't doing enough to drive down emissions.
With temperatures already about 1.2C higher now than before industrialization, keeping the Paris target alive requires a 45 per cent cut in global emissions by 2030, he said.
But after a pandemic-related dip in 2020, emissions rose again sharply last year.
“If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye,” he said. “Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be catastrophe.”
Guterres urged the world's biggest developed and emerging economies to make meaningful emissions cuts, including by swiftly ending their dependence on coal — the most polluting fossil fuel — and holding private companies that continue to support its use to account.