UN chief António Guterres has called on young people to initiate a green political revolution in the face of global failure to tackle the climate crisis.
“You need to revolutionise the world and force my generation to understand that it is our obligation to move fast,” said the secretary general, adding that young people had a “fantastic weapon” in social media.
Guterres described older generations as being “very paternalistic” but urged the youth to take the lead in demanding immediate climate action, warning “we are still slowly destroying the world”.
The secretary general was answering questions from global youth representatives in front of diplomats, private and civil society leaders at the opening of a two-day meeting in Abu Dhabi on Sunday in preparation for the UN climate action summit in September.
Guterres said that if young people could sway public opinion in favour of robust action “governments will follow”, because “governments are concerned about winning the next election or staying in power”.
“You need to make as much noise as possible, you need to organise yourself as strongly as possible. You need to ask for more. You need to push for more because let’s be clear, with the present level of engagement and of international commitments to address these problems we will not solve the challenges we face,” he said.
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Under countries’ current climate plans, the world is expected to reach 3C of warming by the end of the century – more than double the more ambitious target of the Paris Agreement of 1.5C and a “catastrophe for life as we know”, Guterres said.
He said it was “even more worrying” that many countries were not keeping pace with their climate pledges. That was the reason he personally convened the September summit and pressed countries to revisit their plans to reduce emissions one year earlier than the Paris Agreement demands.
Scientists have warned that staying below 1.5C means cutting global emissions by 45% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. Earlier this week, France’s High Council for the Climate warned the country, which legislated to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, was not on track to meet its goals and needed to triple the pace of emissions reduction.
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Guterres said countries needed to present their updated climate plans at the September summit or by December 2020 at the latest, the deadline under the Paris Agreement for countries to review their climate targets.
The climate action summit, he said, would be an opportunity for political, business and civil society leaders “to set an example” and that the meeting in Abu Dhabi was “pointing in the right direction”.
Ahead of the summit, diplomats were cautiously optimistic about the meeting, with countries appearing ready to engage in discussions but with little sign of strong leadership from the EU or any other major emitting countries which could leverage climate action among other countries.
The meeting concludes a fortnight of high-level talks which saw 19 of the G20 leaders reaffirming the “irreversibility” of the Paris Agreement, while the US reiterated its decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord “because it disadvantages American workers and taxpayers”.
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