U.N. chief: Current climate change pledges 'far too little and far too late'

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres issued a dire assessment Monday on the current world pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, saying they were "far too little and far too late" to keep temperatures from rising above a critical threshold.

“The collective commitments of G-20 governments are coming far too little and far too late. The actions of the wealthiest developed and emerging economies simply don’t add up,” Guterres said at a press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York City of the efforts to keep average global temperatures from rising 1.5° Celsius or higher above pre-industrial levels.

The world has already warmed by 1.2°C due to the greenhouse effect caused by mankind’s burning of fossil fuels, and studies show that that amount of warming is already having a profound impact on the planet, including making hurricanes stronger and worsening drought, heat waves, wildfires, and extreme rainfall events.

Despite pledges from world governments made at past U.N. climate change conferences in Paris and Glasgow, a study by the Met Office in the United Kingdom found that there is a 50-50 chance that the world will exceed 1.5°C of warming by the year 2026.

On Monday, Guterres made clear that current emissions trajectories looked even more grim in the decades ahead.

“Taken together, current pledges and policies are shutting the door on our chance to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, let alone meet the 1.5-degree goal,” Guterres said. “We are in a life-or-death struggle for our own safety today and our survival tomorrow.”

António Guterres
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A September report by the U.N. and the World Meteorological Society found that in order to keep global average rise to “1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges need to be seven times higher.”

The report also stated that unless world nations strengthened and carried out pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions above and beyond current commitments the world was poised to see median warming of 3.2°C (5.76°F) by the year 2100. Warming of that amount would result in a world that is almost unrecognizable from the one we live in today, scientists say, with radically redrawn coastlines due to sea level rise and large swaths of the planet made unlivable due to scorching summertime temperatures.

Pointing to these findings, Guterres once again called on humanity to act to try to save itself from the worst consequences of climate change.

“There is no time for pointing fingers — or twiddling thumbs,” he said. "It is time for a game-changing, quantum-level compromise between developed and emerging economies. The world cannot wait. Emissions are at an all-time high and rising.”

Matlacha, Fla., in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian
Matlacha, Fla., in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. (Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images)

After a brief decline in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the economic slowdown in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, the world has resumed burning fossil fuels at an increasing rate. Russia’s war in Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis have further set back the effort to curb emissions.

“The war in Ukraine is putting climate action on the back burner while our planet itself is burning,” Guterres said.

Guterres made his remarks just a month prior to COP27, the upcoming U.N. climate change conference, which will be held in Sharm el-Shaikh, Egypt. Despite his gloomy assessment, Guterres attempted to rally support among nations for not only attending COP 27, but for world leaders to come with stronger plans of action.

“On every climate front, the only solution is decisive action in solidarity,” Guterres said. “COP27 is the place for all countries — led by the G-20 — to show they are in this fight and in it together.”