GENEVA (AP) — The United Nations chief on Wednesday launched a five-point plan to kick-start wider use of renewable energy, hoping to rekindle global attention on climate change as the United Nations weather agency he UN reported that greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat, sea-level rise and ocean acidification hit new records last year.
“We need to end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate the transition to renewable energy before we burn our only home,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. “Hurry up.”
Its latest stark warning of possible environmental disaster comes after the World Meteorological Organization released its 2021 State of the Climate report, which said the past seven years have been the seven hottest on record. The impacts of extreme weather have resulted in death and disease, migration and economic losses worth hundreds of billions of dollars – and the fallout is continuing this year, the WMO said.
“Today’s state of the climate report is a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to address climate disruption,” said António Guterres. “The global energy system is broken and bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe.”
In his plan, which builds on the upcoming UN climate conference to be held in Egypt in November, Guterres called for fostering technology transfer and lifting intellectual property protections in renewable technologies, such as battery storage.
Such ambitions – like his call for technology transfers aimed at tackling COVID-19 – can frustrate innovators and their funders: they want to reap the benefits of their knowledge, investments and discoveries – not just give them away.
Second, Guterres wants to expand access to supply chains and raw materials that go into renewable technologies, which are now concentrated in a few powerful countries.
The UN chief also wants governments to reform in ways that promote renewable energy, for example by accelerating solar and wind projects.
Fourth, he called for an end to government subsidies for fossil fuels which now total half a trillion dollars a year. It’s not an easy task: such subsidies can ease the pockets of many consumers, but they also help pump money into corporate coffers.
“While people suffer from high prices at the pump, the oil and gas industry is reaping billions from a distorted market,” said António Guterres. “This scandal must end.”
Finally, Guterres says private and public investment in renewables must triple to at least $4 trillion a year. He noted that government subsidies for fossil fuels are now more than three times higher than those for renewable energy.
These UN initiatives are based on a central idea: human-generated greenhouse gas emissions in the industrial age have trapped excess heat in the atmosphere, on the Earth’s surface, in oceans and seas. The ripple effect has contributed to more frequent and severe natural disasters like drought, hurricanes, floods and wildfires.
Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather of technology company Stripe and Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit focused on environmental data science, says a good way to move toward net-zero emissions is to “make clean energy good.” market”.
“While rich countries can afford to spend more on clean energy, poor and middle-income countries may be less willing to accept trade-offs between reducing emissions and lifting millions out of abject poverty” , did he declare. “If clean energy sources are cheaper than fossil fuels, they become a win-win and will be adopted faster.”
The WMO report breaks new ground in terms of data, but compiles previous studies into a larger picture of the global climate.
Its secretary general, Petteri Taalas, pointed to a drop in emissions in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic curbed human activity. But he said that didn’t change the ‘big picture’ because carbon dioxide – one of the main greenhouse gases – is long-lived and persists, and emissions have since increased anyway. during.
“We’ve seen this steady growth in carbon dioxide concentration, which is related to the fact that we’re still using too much fossil fuel,” Taalas said in an interview. “Deforestation in regions like the Amazon, Africa and South Asia continues.”
Last year’s UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, failed to muster pledges to cut carbon emissions from the “BRICS” countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. South – which threaten a key target of the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, he said.
“We’re heading more towards a warming of 2.5 to 3 degrees instead of 1.5,” Taalas said.
Climate experts hailed the UN’s ambitions and lamented the WMO’s findings, and said some countries are heading in the wrong direction.
“If climate change is death by a thousand cuts, in 2021 we’ve taken our thousandth,” said Rob Jackson, professor of earth system science at Stanford University, who also chairs the Global Carbon Project which tracks climate change. carbon emissions.
“Dirty coal use has picked up thanks to COVID economic stimulus incentives in China and India. We have built more new coal-fired plant capacity around the world than we have taken offline,” he added. “How is this possible in 2021?”
Jonathan Overpeck, a professor of environmental education at the University of Michigan, noted that fossil fuels have a role in the Russian government’s war in Ukraine. Russia is a major global producer of oil and gas, including through a pipeline that passes through Ukraine to supply homes and businesses in Europe.
“The Secretary General is right to blame fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are creating an ever-worsening climate crisis and all that comes with it,” Overpeck said. “The solution to climate change, deadly air pollution, and true national security is to ditch fossil fuels in favor of clean, renewable energy.”
“It’s getting scary,” he added. “The climate crisis and the European war are a call to action and to rid the planet of fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”
AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report. ___
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