At a media session in New York on Monday, November 27, 2023, United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, called on leaders meeting at COP28 in Dubai to act to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, protect people from climate chaos, and end the fossil fuel age
I have just returned from Antarctica – the sleeping giant. A giant being awoken by climate chaos. Together, Antarctica and Greenland are melting well over three times faster than they were in the early 1990s.
It is profoundly shocking to stand on the ice of Antarctica and hear directly from scientists how fast the ice is disappearing.
New figures show that this September, Antarctic Sea ice was 1.5 million square kilometres smaller than the average for the time of year – an area roughly equal to the combined size of Portugal, Spain, France and Germany.
And this year, Antarctic Sea ice hit an all-time low. That matters for us all. What happens in Antarctica doesn’t stay in Antarctica. We live in an interconnected world.
Melting sea ice means rising seas. And that directly endangers lives and livelihoods in coastal communities across the globe. Floods and saltwater intrusion imperil crops and drinking water – threatening food and water security.
Homes are no longer insurable. Coastal cities and entire small islands risk being lost to the seas. And vital natural systems are at risk of being disrupted.
The movement of waters around Antarctica distributes heat, nutrients and carbon around the world, helping to regulate our climate and regional weather patterns. But that system is slowing as the Southern Ocean grows warmer and less dense. Further slowdown – or entire breakdown – would spell catastrophe.
The cause of all this destruction is clear: The fossil fuel pollution coating the Earth and heating the planet. Without changing course, we’re heading towards a calamitous three-degree Celsius temperature rise by the end of the century.
Sea surface temperatures are already at record highs. If we continue as we are, and I strongly hope we will not, the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets will cross a deadly tipping point.
This alone would ultimately push up sea levels by around 10 meters. We are trapped in a deadly cycle. Ice reflects the sun’s rays. As it vanishes, more heat is absorbed into the Earth’s atmosphere.
That means more heating, which means more storms, floods, fires and droughts across the globe. And more melting. Which means, with less ice, even more heating. At COP28, which starts later this week, leaders must break this cycle.
The solutions are well known. Leaders must act to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, protect people from climate chaos, and end the fossil fuel age.
We need a global commitment to triple renewables, double energy efficiency, and bring clean power to all, by 2030. We need a clear and credible commitment to phase out fossil fuels on a timeframe that aligns with the 1.5-degree limit.
And we need climate justice – setting the world up for a huge increase in investment in adaptation and loss and damage to protect people from climate extremes.
Antarctica is crying out for action. I salute the thousands of researchers – in Antarctica and around the world – expanding our understanding of the changes taking place on the continent. They are testament to human ingenuity and the immense benefits of international collaboration.
Leaders must not let the hopes of people around the world for a sustainable planet melt away. They must make COP28 count.
Kristen Saloomey, Al Jazeera: Thank you for this briefing. Couple of questions if I may. Can you react to allegations that the UAE (United Arab Emirates) has been negotiating carbon fuel deals on the sidelines of COP, and that’s their intention? Are you worried about this undermining it? Also, just if you have any reaction to the ceasefire in Gaza happening. We just heard it was extended another two days. How is the humanitarian relief going, from your perspective?
Secretary-General: Well, in relation to the first question, I can’t believe it is true. In relation to the second, I would say it’s a glimpse of hope and humanity in the middle of the darkness of war. And I strongly hope that this will enable us to increase even more the humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza that is suffering so much, knowing that even with that additional amount of time, it will be impossible to satisfy all the dramatic needs of the population in Gaza.
Pam Falk, CBS News: Welcome back. On your trip, renewables are being increased. They’re at the lowest cost they’ve been. The one thing you didn’t say is whether or not it is too late for the Antarctic melting and the ice sheet melting.
Secretary-General: It is not too late. It is clear that if we now take decisions, tripling for 2030, the renewables energy available, and it is possible and it is cheaper than doing anything else. Doubling energy efficiency, because if we do not spend energy, that is the best way to protect the climate. And finally, phasing out fossil fuels with a time frame that is compatible with 1.5 degrees. So if there is political will to take these three decisions, we are perfectly on time to avoid any catastrophe in Antarctica and around the world.
Ahmed Fathi, ATN News: Mr. Secretary-General, you have always championed the role of the civil society in climate action. How do you intend to discuss with the civil society who are going to be present in Dubai, especially after the last report about UAE engaging in negotiation with 15 nations? And what message do you have for the activists who are going to be on the ground, since you have seen through the previous COPs how passionate they are about the climate action?
Secretary-General: Obviously, if there is a defining issue of our times, if there is what we can call the most relevant threat to humankind, it is climate. So, to be passionate about climate is to be passionate about humanity. Now, I already had a meeting with key civil society leaders, exactly in preparation of the COP. And I intend to take profit of my presence in the COP to have intense contact with the civil society that will be present in the Blue Zone.