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UN chief seeks to jolt climate ambition with warning of "catastrophe"

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. Photo: Parker Song - Pool/Getty Images
UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Photo: Parker Song - Pool/Getty Images

UNs Secretary-General António Guterres is trying to rev up global efforts to achieve climate goals that are slipping out of reach.

Driving the news: In a new interview with AP, he warns of a "catastrophic situation for the whole world" as he prepares to tour Pacific islands facing existential threats from rising seas.

The big picture: Guterres offers big goals ahead of the climate summit he's convening in September, including no new coal-fired power plants built after 2020 and ending fossil fuel subsidies.

  • He's not giving up on achieving net-zero global emissions by 2050 (that is, a mix of emissions cuts and systems that remove atmospheric CO2).

Between the lines: The coal target won't happen, and subsidies are a long-term project. They totaled over $300 billion in 2017 (and that doesn't even count production subsidies).

  • But by offering aggressive goals, it appears Guterres wants to reset the conversation around ambition to limit temperature rise to 1.5⁰C.
  • That Hail Mary target would require extraordinarily sharp cuts in years and decades ahead, yet emissions are still rising.

The bottom line: "It is achievable, but it needs a transformational approach," he tells AP, citing huge shifts needed in power, transport, industry, and agriculture.

Go deeper: UN details massive changes needed to slow global warming