World urged to move on ‘climate emergency’ after pandemic

LONDON (AFP) – The United Nations (UN) on Saturday urged leaders to declare a global climate emergency and shape greener growth after the coronavirus pandemic, as nations took gloomy stock five years since the landmark Paris Agreement.

Fast-growing China, the world’s biggest emitter, outlined limited new ambitions in green energy at a virtual ‘Climate Ambition Summit’ addressed by more than 70 leaders.

In the dying days of Donald Trump’s administration, the United States (US) government was one notable absentee after abandoning the Paris pact.

But president-elect Joe Biden issued a statement arguing there was “no time to waste”, as he prepares to embrace the deal anew and to host his own climate summit within 100 days of taking office next month.

“Welcome back, welcome home!” French President Emmanuel Macron told the Americans, switching to English in his summit address.

The Paris town hall glows green to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Paris Agreement. PHOTO: AP

Nations not invited by the organisers included Brazil and Australia, which both stand accused of ignoring the crisis under their right-wing governments in the build-up to the UN’s next major climate summit next year, COP26, in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

Commitments made in Paris in 2015 were already “far from enough” to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his opening address to the summit, co-hosted by Britain and France.

“If we don’t change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than three degrees this century,” he said.

“That is why today, I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached,” he added, arguing the recovery from COVID-19 presented a rare opportunity to recalibrate growth.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the summit that “the promethean power of our invention” was yielding vaccines against the disease, and should be unleashed too for the climate.

Heading into the summit, Johnson committed to ending all direct United Kingdom (UK) support for the fossil-fuel sector overseas. And he has presented plans for a “green industrial revolution” creating up to 250,000 jobs, especially in renewable energy.

“We are doing this not because we are hair-shirt-wearing, tree-hugging, mung-bean-munching eco freaks,” he told the summit.

“We are doing it because we know that scientific advances will allow us, collectively as humanity, to save our planet and create millions of high-skilled jobs as we recover from COVID.”