In an extraordinary, if largely unheralded, diplomatic achievement, most of the world’s leading emitters have already joined the UN’s “net zero by 2050” coalition, including the European Union, Japan, the United Kingdom, and China (which is the world’s largest source of annual emissions and has committed to achieving carbon neutrality “before 2060”). India, meanwhile, the world’s third largest annual emitter, is the only Group of 20 country on track to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, despite needing to lift many of its people out of poverty, an achievement Guterres called “remarkable.” Along with fellow petro-state Russia, the United States has been the only major holdout, after Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing the country from the Paris Agreement soon after he became president four years ago.
Reiterating scientists’ warning that humanity faces “a climate emergency,” the secretary general said that achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is imperative if we are to avoid “irreversible” impacts that would be “absolutely devastating for the world economy and for human life.” He said rich countries must honor their obligation under the Paris Agreement to provide $100 billion a year to help developing countries limit their own climate pollution and adapt to the heat waves, storms, and sea-level rise already underway. The trillions of dollars now being invested to revive pandemic-battered economies also must be spent in a “green” way, Guterres argued, or today’s younger generations will inherit “a wrecked planet.” And he predicted that the oil and gas industry, in its present form, will die out before the end of this century as economies shift to renewable energy sources.
For a global economy that still relies on oil, gas, and coal for most of its energy and much of its food production, moving to “net zero” by 2050 nevertheless represents a tectonic shift—all the more so because scientists calculate that emissions must fall roughly by half over the next 10 years to hit the 2050 target. Achieving those goals will require fundamental shifts in both public and private policy, including building no new coal plants and phasing out existing ones, Guterres said. Governments must also reform tax and subsidy practices.
The Nation is a pay site, but you get several free articles a month.