HomeBreaking NewsThe UN chief's test: Shame without naming the world's climate criminals

The UN chief’s test: Shame without naming the world’s climate criminals

The world’s top diplomat, António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, told world leaders on Tuesday that their efforts to address the climate crisis had fallen “abysmally short” and called on them to do what even countries with climate ambitions they have been reluctant to do. : stop expanding coal, oil and gas production.

“Every continent, every region and every country is feeling the pressure, but I’m not sure that every leader is feeling that pressure,” he said in his opening remarks to presidents and prime ministers gathered for their annual meeting in The general assembly. “The era of fossil fuels has failed.”

Guterres, now in his second and final term, has made climate action his central issue and has become unusually direct in his language about the need to rein in fossil fuel production and not just focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse derived from its use. .

As always, he singled out the world’s 20 largest economies for not acting quickly enough. As always, he stopped short of calling out specific countries.

Not China, the global coal giant. Neither Britain nor the United States, which have ambitious climate laws but continue to issue new oil and gas permits. Not the United Arab Emirates, a petrostate where a state oil company executive is hosting the upcoming United Nations climate negotiations, a move that Activists have denounced as undermining the very legitimacy of the talks.

The contradictions show not only the limitations of Guterres, a 74-year-old Portuguese politician, but also the deficiencies of the diplomatic playbook on a problem as urgent as global warming.

“The rules of multilateral diplomacy and multilateral summits are not adequate for the rapid and effective response we need,” said Richard Gowan, who decodes United Nations rituals for the International Crisis Group.

The 2015 Paris climate agreement only calls for countries to set voluntary targets to address climate pollution. Agreements that emerge from annual climate negotiations are routinely watered down because all countries, including coal, oil and gas advocates, must agree on every word and comma.

The general secretary can cajole but not order, urge but not impose. He does not name specific countries, although nothing in the United Nations Charter prevents him from doing so.

Despite their exhortations, governments have only increased their fossil fuel subsidies, reaching a record level. 7 trillion dollars in 2022. Few nations have concrete plans to shift their economies away from fossil fuels, and many depend directly or indirectly on revenues from coal, oil and gas. The human cost of climate change continues to rise.

“He has played his role as a kind of truth-teller,” said Rachel Kyte, a former United Nations climate diplomat and professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. “The powers at his disposal as secretary-general are impressive but limited.”

On Wednesday, he is deploying a diplomatic wink. At a Climate Ambition Summit he organizes, he gives the microphone only to those countries that have done what he has urged, and only if they send a high-level leader, to show that they take the summit seriously. “A naming and shaming device that doesn’t actually require naming or shaming anyone,” Gowan said.

Diplomatic maneuvering over who will be on the list has been intense. More than 100 countries submitted requests to speak, and Guterres’ aides, in turn, requested more information to prove they deserve to be on the list. What have they done about phasing out coal, some have been asked. How much climate financing have you offered? Are they still issuing new oil and gas permits? Etc.

“It’s good to see Guterres trying to hold his feet to the fire,” said Mohamed Adow, a Kenyan activist.

Guterres has waited until the last minute to make public the list of speakers.

Expect the awkward.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, is expected to attend but not speak. (Mr. Guterres is giving the microphone only to senior national leaders.) It is unclear whether the head of this year’s Chinese delegation, Vice President Han Zheng, will have a speaking role. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has obtained the microphone. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will not attend the General Assembly conclave at all. Sultan al-Jaber, head of the Emirati oil company and host of the upcoming climate talks, is scheduled to speak.

Guterres will also invite companies with what he calls “credible” goals to reduce their climate emissions to participate. Expect to count them on the fingers of one hand.

“If fossil fuel companies want to be part of the solution, they must lead the transition to renewable energy,” he said Tuesday.

Guterres, who had led the United Nations refugee agency for 10 years before being selected for the top job, did not always make climate change his central issue.

In fact, he did not speak about it when he was elected to head the United Nations in 2016. Climate was seen as the signature issue of his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, who guided the Paris Agreement in 2015. Guterres spoke instead about war in Syria, terrorism and gender parity in the United Nations. (Her choice of him disappointed those who had They are pushing for a woman to lead the world body for the first time in its 70-year history).

In 2018 a change occurred. At the General Assembly that year he called climate change “The defining theme of our time..” In 2019, he invited climate activist Greta Thunberg, whose raw anger against world leaders, to the General Assembly (“How dare you?” (criticized world leaders) sparked a social media clash with President Donald J. Trump, who was pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement.

Guterres, for his part, carefully avoided criticizing the United States by name.

By 2022, when oil companies were making record profits following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he expanded his language. “We need to hold fossil fuel companies and their enablers accountable”he told world leaders at the General Assembly. He called for a windfall tax, urged countries to end fossil fuel subsidies, and appointed a committee to publish guidelines for private companies on What is considered “greenwashing”?.”

This year, he weighed in on the contentious debate between those who want greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas projects to be captured and stored, or “reduced,” and those who want to keep oil and gas hidden entirely. “The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. They are fossil fuels, period.”Guterres said in June.

Reactions from the private sector are mixed, said Paul Simpson, founder and former director of CDP, a non-governmental group that works with companies to address their climate pollution. Some executives say privately that Guterres is right to call for a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, while others point out that most national governments still lack concrete energy transition plans, no matter what he says.

“The question really is: how effective is the United Nations?” Mr. Simpson said. “It has the ability to get governments to focus and plan. But the UN itself has no strength, so national governments and companies must act.”

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