United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declares that Planet Earth is Broken at his address at Columbia University on the “The State of the Planet” on the 2nd December 2020.
“We are facing a devastating pandemic, new heights of global heating, new lows of ecological degradation and new setbacks in our work towards global goals for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable development.
To put it simply, the state of the planet is broken.”
Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere – Planet Earth is broken
WAR ON NATURE – “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back — and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes. Deserts are spreading. Wetlands are being lost. Every year, we lose 10 million hectares of forests. Oceans are overfished — and choking with plastic waste. The carbon dioxide they absorb is acidifying the seas. Coral reefs are bleached and dying.
Air and water pollution are killing 9 million people annually – more than six times the current toll of the pandemic. And with people and livestock encroaching further into animal habitats and disrupting wild spaces, we could see more viruses and other disease-causing agents jump from animals to humans. Let’s not forget that 75 per cent of new and emerging human infectious diseases are zoonotic. Today, two new authoritative reports from the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme spell out how close we are to climate catastrophe. 2020 is on track to be one of the three warmest years on record globally – even with the cooling effect of this year’s La Nina.
The past decade was the hottest in human history. Ocean heat is at record levels. This year, more than 80 per cent of the world’s oceans experienced marine heatwaves. In the Arctic, 2020 has seen exceptional warmth, with temperatures more than 3 degrees Celsius above average – and more than 5 degrees in northern Siberia. Arctic sea ice in October was the lowest on record – and now re-freezing has been the slowest on record. Greenland ice has continued its long-term decline, losing an average of 278 gigatons a year.
Permafrost is melting and so releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are increasingly the new normal. The North Atlantic hurricane season has seen 30 storms, more than double the long-term average and breaking the record for a full season. Central America is still reeling from two back-to-back hurricanes, part of the most intense period for such storms in recent years. Last year such disasters cost the world $150 billion.”
Greenland ice has continued its long-term decline, losing an average of 278 gigatons a year – Planet Earth is broken
CARBON EMISSIONS – “COVID-19 lockdowns have temporarily reduced emissions and pollution. But carbon dioxide levels are still at record highs – and rising. In 2019, carbon dioxide levels reached 148 per cent of pre-industrial levels. In 2020, the upward trend has continued despite the pandemic. Methane soared even higher – to 260 per cent. Nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas but also a gas that harms the ozone layer, has escalated by 123 per cent. Meanwhile, climate policies have yet to rise to the challenge.Emissions are 62 per cent higher now than when international climate negotiations began in 1990.
Every tenth of a degree of warming matters. Today, we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and already witnessing unprecedented climate extremes and volatility in every region and on every continent. We are headed for a thundering temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century. The science is crystal clear: to limit temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world needs to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6 per cent every year between now and 2030.
LACK OF POLITICAL WILL TO ACT – Instead, the world is going in the opposite direction — planning an annual increase of 2 per cent.The fallout of the assault on our planet is impeding our efforts to eliminate poverty and imperilling food security. And it is making our work for peace even more difficult, as the disruptions drive instability, displacement and conflict. It is no coincidence that seventy per cent of the most climate vulnerable countries are also among the most politically and economically fragile.
It is not happenstance that of the 15 countries most susceptible to climate risks, eight host a United Nations peacekeeping or special political mission. As always, the impacts fall most heavily on the world’s most vulnerable people. Those who have done the least to cause the problem are suffering the most. Even in the developed world, the marginalized are the first victims of disasters and the last to recover.”
Today, we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and already witnessing unprecedented climate extremes and volatility in every region and on every continent – Planet Earth is broken
A GREEN RECOVERY – “Let’s be clear: human activities are at the root of our descent towards chaos. But that means human action can help solve it. Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere. In this context, the recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity. We can see rays of hope in the form of a vaccine. But there is no vaccine for the planet.
Nature needs a bailout. In overcoming the pandemic, we can also avert climate cataclysm and restore our planet.
This is an epic policy test. But ultimately this is a moral test. The trillions of dollars needed for COVID recovery is money that we are borrowing from future generations. Every last penny. We cannot use those resources to lock in policies that burden them with a mountain of debt on a broken planet.
It is time to flick the “green switch”. We have a chance to not simply reset the world economy but to transform it.
A sustainable economy driven by renewable energies will create new jobs, cleaner infrastructure and a resilient future. An inclusive world will help ensure that people can enjoy better health and the full respect of their human rights, and live with dignity on a healthy planet. COVID recovery and our planet’s repair must be the two sides of the same coin.”
Deserts are spreading – Planet Earth is broken
“Let me start with the climate emergency. We face three imperatives in addressing the climate crisis:
First, we need to achieve global carbon neutrality within the next three decades. Second, we have to align global finance behind the Paris Agreement, the world’s blueprint for climate action. Third, we must deliver a breakthrough on adaptation to protect the world – and especially the most vulnerable people and countries — from climate Impacts.
Let me take these in turn.”
CLIMATE EMERGENCY – “First, carbon neutrality – net zero emissions of greenhouse gases. In recent weeks, we have seen important positive developments. The European Union has committed to become first climate neutral continent by 2050 – and I expect it will decide to reduce its emissions to at least 55 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. The United Kingdom, Japan, the Republic of Korea and more than 110 countries have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. The incoming United States administration has announced exactly the same goal.
China has committed to get there before 2060. This means that by early next year, countries representing more than 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70 per cent of the world economy will have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality. We must turn this momentum into a movement. The central objective of the United Nations for 2021 is to build a truly Global Coalition for Carbon Neutrality.
I firmly believe that 2021 can be a new kind of leap year — the year of a quantum leap towards carbon neutrality. Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050 — and I encourage the main emitters to lead the way in taking decisive action now to get on the right path and to achieve this vision, which means cutting global emissions by 45 percent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels. And this must be clear in the Nationally Determined Contributions.”
Source: Secretary-General’s Antonio Guterres address at Columbia University: “The State of the Planet” on the 02 December 2020