Apr 11, 2024 - Energy & Environment

"Two years left to save the world": Top UN climate official elevates the stakes

United Nations' top climate official Simon Stiell speaking next to a clock mounted on a wall.

UN climate chief Simon Stiell speaks at Chatham House in London yesterday. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

The top UN climate official used jarring, controversial framing in a stark speech in London on Wednesday, claiming we only have "two years left to save the world."

Why it matters: Simon Stiell's speech laid out the stakes for meeting the Paris targets before multiple international gatherings, elections and deadlines, starting with World Bank-IMF spring meetings next week.

Yes, but: The headline of his talk at the Chatham House think tank is garnering the most attention.

  • His presentation risks straying into the land of climate doomers, but it is about the timeline of the Paris Agreement, not evidence showing the globe has a two-year window to avert climate catastrophe.
  • The accord calls for countries to submit their next national climate targets by 2025, covering the period out to 2035.
  • Stiell made the case for stronger pre-2030 targets to be made ASAP, noting current plans "in aggregate would barely cut emissions at all by 2030."

Zoom in: Significantly, Stiell also called for a "new deal" on climate finance to be negotiated at COP 29 in Baku.

  • It would provide vastly more abundant and flexible funding to help countries withstand climate impacts and transition away from fossil fuels, he said.
  • In a message with relevance to the U.S., he said demand-side measures, such as carbon pricing, are needed to "speed up the decline of fossil fuels."
  • He also warned against governments, and voters, deemphasizing climate ahead of pivotal elections.

The bottom line: Stiell sees a time crunch approaching that could have long-lasting repercussions.

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