Antonio Guterres issues stark warning as latest talks in Madrid get underway with news Mark Carney is to take up key climate role

The world’s response to climate change has been “utterly inadequate”, forcing the planet to the “point of no return”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned yesterday at the start of the latest round of international climate talks. Speaking in Madrid, Guterres said humans must end their “war against nature” and use the COP25 talks to strengthen their plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions in line with what science says is required.

In 2015 world leaders under the Paris Agreement promised to limit warming to “well below” two degrees, but nations’ individual pledges do not come close to meeting that goal. The UN and progressive nations hope to encourage other countries to boost their ambition ahead of the Paris Agreement entering into force next year.

“In the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments – particularly from the main emitters – to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050,” Guterres said.

The UN chief’s comments follow analysis last week revealing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit a record high in 2018, with emissions still rising. The news reignited fears among scientists that the world is nearing so-called ‘tipping points’, where events such as the melting of polar ice caps trigger runaway climate change that cannot be reversed.

“The point of no-return is no longer over the horizon,” Guterres said. “It is in sight and hurtling towards us.”

He urged leaders to find the political will to halt fossil fuel subsidies, put a price on carbon, stop building coal power plants from 2020 onwards, and shift towards a tax system that penalises pollution. “We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” he said.

Alongside government action, the UN will be hoping the appointment of Bank of England Governor Action Mark Carney to the role of United Nations Special Envoy for Climate and Finance will help accelerate change in the capital markets. Carney, whose term at the Bank of England ends at the end of January, was announced as the new climate envoy at the UN summit yesterday. He will replace Michael Bloomberg, who is now competing for the Democratic nomination in the US Presidential race. During his time at the Bank of England, Carney has been a vocal champion of the need for banks, insurers, and other finance players to take the threat of climate change more seriously, warning it will cause severe disruption to the global economy if no action is taken.

He has been working to encourage firms to become more transparent about the risks climate change poses to their business activities. He argues enhanced disclosure would improve business planning and resilience to climate threats, and help investors make informed decisions about where their capital should go. Carney said he wanted to make this issue a focus of his work at the UN.

“The disclosures of climate risk must become comprehensive, climate risk management must be transformed, and investing for a net-zero world must go mainstream,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Welcoming Carney’s appointment, Spain’s Minister for the Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera said it was a “powerful signal” that all sectors must boost their ambition. 

“The global shift from the grey to the green economy is gathering momentum, as we saw from business and finance stepping up at the Climate Action Summit in September, but much more is needed, and we strongly believe Mr Carney’s appointment will help that transition find an even higher gear,” she said. Click here to read more

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