On Monday, September 10th, a few days ahead of the opening of the 73rd General Assembly, António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, spoke on the necessity of combating climate change, and in turn, preventing humanity’s imminent doom. “I have called you here to sound the alarm… we face a direct existential threat.”
Guterres stressed that urgent action is necessary to prevent irreversible destruction of Earth’s current environment, upon which our continued existence depends. He stated that “if we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.”
In Monday’s speech, Guterres identified an essential question in regards to humanity’s lack of “climate action”. We know, and have known for decades, that climate change is happening and it is an “existential threat.” It has for too long been an urgent problem. But why have we not taken meaningful action to prevent our own preventable destruction? Especially the organization which claims to unite the world in the face of common challenges, for climate change is the common challenge.
“Dear friends, we know what is happening to our planet, we know what we need to do. We even know how to do it. But sadly, the ambition of our action is nowhere near where it needs to be.” Antonio Guterres
Global warming is a problem that affects us all. Although, as Guterres mentions, the poorest communities suffer greater from its consequences, everyone, whoever they are, will feel it’s effects. It is a problem that we are forced to face. However, this speech being delivered by the Secretary-General of the UN, “a global organization that brings together its member states to confront common challenges”, raises the question of how meaningful action combating the biggest threat of our generation has been avoided. And after compiling a list of catastrophic events and scientific facts that attempt to display the problem of climate change, the Secretary-General, attempts to answer this question by pointing to a lack of ambition.
However, this answer is unsatisfactory. It would make sense if world leaders, businesses, and civil society have faced climate change, but are simply not ambitious enough to make real, and therefore radical, change. Claiming that the reason for the insignificant “climate action” is a lack of ambition implies that civil society, businesses, and world leaders want to do “climate actions” in the first place. Guterres assumes that they do not say with Donald Trump, the President of the United States, “I don’t believe in climate change.”
In a recent interview, Guterres told the Atlantic that his strategy in regards to Washington “is to affirm the things we believe in, not in confrontation against, but as such.” This notion was apparent in his speech on Monday when he failed to attribute responsibility to the United States, which in 2017, withdrew from the Paris Agreement.
Climate change is not a random phenomenon that simply happened to our innocent species. It is a direct consequence of our actions. Especially those of the richest countries in the world such as the U.S, whose contribution is second only to China. In order to convince world leaders, businesses, and civil society to take meaningful ‘climate action,’ the UN Secretary-General must not simply “break the paralysis”, as, according to the New York Times, he wrote in an advance copy but then omitted from the speech, but confront those who have created this threat to humanity’s existence and make them take responsibility for the actions they are already taking. For humanity, and especially the United States, is not paralyzed in the face of its own destruction, but is actively committing suicide.