U.N. Chief: Don’t Let Russia Crisis ‘Knee-Cap’ Climate Goals

(BERLIN, Germany) — 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 Monday.

U.N. 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 by video 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.”

Guterres said that “instead of hitting the brakes on the decarbonization 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 U.N.’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 last month showed that 50% of the population is already in serious danger from climate change. The risk will rise with every tenth degree of temperature increase.

Guterres said the Paris climate accord’s goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) was “on life support” because countries aren’t doing enough to drive down emissions.

According to him, the Paris targets must be maintained despite temperatures rising by about 1.2C more than it was before industrialization. This means that global emissions need to be cut by at least 45% between 2030 and 2025.

However, after the pandemic-related drop in 2020 emissions, they rose sharply again 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.

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