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War against nature must stop: UN chief

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gives a press conference, at the 'IFEMA - Feria de Madrid' exhibition center, in Madrid, Spain, on December 1, 2019, on the eve of the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference COP25. (Photo by AFP)

The devastating impact of global warming that threatens humanity is a pushback from nature under assault, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned Sunday ahead of a key climate conference.

"For many decades the human species has been at war with the planet, and now the planet is fighting back," he said, decrying the "utterly inadequate" efforts of the world's major economies to curb carbon pollution.

"We must stop our war against nature, and science tells us we can do it."

Guterres flagged a UN report to be released in a few days confirming the last five years are the warmest on record, with 2019 likely to be the second hottest ever.

"Climate-related disasters are becoming more frequent, more deadly, more destructive," he said, on the eve of the 196-nation COP25 climate change talks in Madrid.

Every year, air pollution associated with climate change kills seven million people, he noted, adding that human health and food security are at risk.

In this file, photo taken on April 21, 2016, an Indian farmer is seen walking across the bed of a pond built under an Indian government scheme that has dried out during a water crisis, in Katra Village, 45 km from Allahabad, India. (By AFP)

Cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases — mostly from burning carbon-based fossil fuels — that have been agreed so far under the Paris deal are not enough to limit temperature rises to a goal of between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Many countries are not even meeting those commitments, and political will is lacking, Guterres said.

The UN chief's comments were clearly aimed at the handful of countries responsible for more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions, though he did not call them out by name.

US President Donald Trump has started withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, while the deforestation of the Amazon basin — a crucial carbon reservoir — is accelerating, and China has tilted back toward building more coal-fired power plants.

Seventy countries have committed to a goal of 'carbon neutrality' or 'climate neutrality' by 2050. This means they would balance out greenhouse emissions, for instance through carbon capture technology or by planting trees.

But Guterres said these pledges were not enough.

"We also see clearly that the world's largest emitters are not pulling their weight," he said, "and without them, our goal is unreachable."

Guterres singled out the European Union as playing a constructive role, saying the 28-nation bloc could help lead the way toward a net-zero global economy by 2050.

This file photo shows icebergs breaking off the Vatnajokull Glacier, in Iceland, before floating to the sea. (By AFP)

But current national pledges — if carried out — would see global temperatures rise by at least 3 degrees C, a recipe for human misery, according to scientists.

Despite growing public pressure, the 12-day negotiating session is likely to remain technical in nature, focused on finalizing the "rulebook" for the Paris Agreement, which becomes operational at the end of next year.

Climate change is no longer a long-term problem, Guterres said.

"We are confronted now with a global climate crisis, and the point of no return is no longer over the horizon — it is in sight and hurtling towards us."

Last year's UN climate summit in Poland yielded a framework for reporting and monitoring emissions pledges and updating plans for further cuts.

But sticking points remain, not least over an article on how to put a price on emissions, and so allow them to be traded.

"I don't even want to entertain the possibility that we do not agree on article 6," Guterres said. "We are here to approve guidelines to implement article 6, not to find excuses not to do it."

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has accepted an invitation to become UN special envoy on climate action and climate finance from January 1, Guterres said.

(Source: Agencies)

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