'Betrayal and injustice': U.N. secretary-general says global climate change response is falling short

NEW YORK — United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a stark message demanding more aggressive action to mitigate climate change at the beginning of the U.N. General Assembly.

Speaking at a Wednesday press conference, Guterres decried “the sheer inadequacy of the global response to the climate crisis.”

He began his opening remarks by talking about Pakistan’s ongoing massive flooding, which has caused billions of dollars in damage and over 1,300 deaths.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stands at a podium.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks to the media in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Sept. 9. (Muhammad Reza/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“I have just returned from Pakistan, where I looked through a window into the future,” Guterres said. “A future of permanent and ubiquitous climate chaos on an unimaginable scale: devastating loss of life, enormous human suffering, and massive damage to infrastructure and livelihoods. ... What is happening in Pakistan demonstrates the sheer inadequacy of the global response to the climate crisis, and the betrayal and injustice at the heart of it.”

Climate change, Guterres noted, is caused by greenhouse gas emissions that have overwhelmingly come from the world’s richest countries, but the extreme weather events and the devastation they cause are falling hardest on poor countries like Pakistan.

In addition to the Pakistan flooding, which is caused by record high temperatures this spring leading to glacial melting and a particularly intense monsoon season, Guterres discussed other climate-change-related crises enveloping the developing world, such as the food shortage in East Africa.

“Whether it’s Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, small islands or least developed countries, the world’s most vulnerable — who did nothing to cause this crisis — are paying a horrific price for decades of intransigence by big emitters,” Guterres said. “G-20 countries are responsible for 80 percent of emissions. ... If one-third of G-20 countries was underwater today, as it could be tomorrow, perhaps they would find it easier to agree on drastic cuts to emissions.”

Guterres argued that rich countries must commit to more ambitious emissions reductions and to providing funding to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.

A woman and four children stand in water in a flooded area, next to wooden tables piled with gathered-up belongings.
A flooded area in the southern Sindh province of Pakistan on Sept. 4. (Ahmed Ali/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“Unless action is taken now, unless funds are disbursed now, these tragedies will simply multiply, with devastating consequences for years to come, including instability and mass migration around the world,” he said.

“My message to world leaders gathering here is clear: Lower the temperature — now. Don’t flood the world today; don’t drown it tomorrow.”

The reporters’ questions, however, were mostly about the Russian war on Ukraine, illustrating the difficulty of maintaining global attention on climate change.

“It would be naive to think we are close to the possibility of a peace deal,” Guterres said about the war. “My office is ready, ... but the chances are minimal at the present moment.”

In response to a question about the European energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine, Guterres called for governments to tax the record profits being enjoyed by fossil fuel companies as a result of high oil and gas prices.

Guterres also said he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday morning about expanding the Black Sea Grain Initiative, an effort to export Russian and Ukrainian grain in spite of the war between the countries, to alleviate the food crisis in parts of Africa and other low-income countries.

A reporter from Pakistan asked what the U.N. can do for his country.

“Pakistan needs a massive inflow of financial resources,” Guterres said.


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