Secretary general Antonio Guterres said that the world's response to climate change is falling abysmally short.
Leaders from around the world are gathered in New York to discuss some of the world’s biggest challenges at the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
The climate crisis, along with its intertwined consequences for security, food and poverty has taken centre stage.
Addressing the global gathering on Tuesday (19 September), UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres began by referencing the catastrophic flooding in Libya this month.
He said that the thousands of people dead were “victims of years of conflict, victims of climate chaos, victims of leaders near and far, who failed to find a way to peace”.
Gutteres described bodies washing ashore in Libya's Derna, in the same Mediterranean Sea where billionaires sunbathe on their super yachts, as a “sad snapshot of the state of the world”.
A world that he said is “becoming unhinged” with the deadly disaster representing a “flood of inequity, of injustice, of inability to confront the challenges in our midst”.
The world is out of step on climate and sustainability pledges
Global action - or inaction as recent reports indicate - is emerging as one of the world’s biggest obstacles to addressing these challenges.
After the G7, G20 and a number of other international meetings fell short of meaningful pledges, the UNGA will be the last major global gathering to take place before COP28 in Dubai later this year.
Released earlier this month, the UN’s Global Stocktake found that the world is way off track to meet its 2015 Paris agreement targets. The Climate Ambition Summit on Wednesday is set to showcase those “first movers and shakers” who are already doing the most.
Also in 2017, UN members signed up to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with targets including limiting global warming, education and putting an end to extreme poverty. They are meant to be met by 2030 but the scale of global crises has left most nations off track.
A two-day SDG summit at the UNGA aims to be a “rallying cry to recharge momentum” in achieving these objectives, the UN says.
“We must be determined to tackle the most immediate threat to our future: our overheating planet,” Guterres said.
“Climate chaos is breaking new records but we cannot afford the same old broken record of scapegoating and waiting for others to move first.”
An ‘unshakeable trust in humanity’
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva echoed the theme of rising inequality.
When he first stood at the podium at the UNGA 20 years ago, hunger was the central theme of his speech. The world had not yet realised the severity of the climate crisis.
The Brazillian leader said that the world is now increasingly unequal with the 10 richest billionaires holding more wealth than the poorest 40 per cent of humanity.
But he still maintains an “unshakeable trust in humanity” to overcome the challenges it faces two decades on. Lula said that Brazil is committed to delivering all 17 of the SDGs - without repeating the mistakes of the world’s wealthiest nations.
“The richest 10 per cent of the world’s population are responsible for almost half of all carbon released into the atmosphere,” he told the UNGA.
"We developing countries do not want to repeat this model."
Lula highlighted that 87 per cent of Brazil’s electricity now comes from clean sources and deforestation in the country’s Amazon rainforest has been reduced by 48 per cent.
“The whole world has always talked about the Amazon – now the Amazon is speaking for itself.”
Is there still a ‘way out of this mess’?
Presidents, premiers, ministers and monarchs from around 140 countries are in New York. It is the first time they have met on this scale since the COVID-19 pandemic and the number in attendance reflects the range of problems they have to solve.
“People are looking to their leaders for a way out of this mess,” Guterres said ahead of a gathering of world leaders at the UNGA on Tuesday.
But not all leaders are “feeling the heat” of climate change, according to the UN chief.
US President Joe Biden was the only leader from the UN’s Security Council - five powerful veto-wielding nations rounded out by the UK, France, China and Russia - to address the assembly.
Guterres said that there is still time to keep global warming within the 1.5C limit of the Paris Agreement but it will take “drastic” steps as the world's response to climate change falls "abysmally short".
With G20 countries responsible for 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, he called on big polluters to make extra efforts to cut emissions, end coal use and fossil fuel subsidies and put a “price on carbon”.
The UN Secretary General added that wealthy countries must provide support for emerging nations to transition to green technology and cope with the growing consequences of climate change.