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The UN Secretary General Urges Public Pressure to Address the Climate ‘Emergency’

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EDITOR’S NOTE:&nbsp

Covering Climate NowThis story was published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story, co-founded by The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review.

The United Nations secretary general says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change “emergency.”

“Governments always follow public opinion, everywhere in the world, sooner or later,” António Guterres said Tuesday in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets. Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, added, “We need to keep telling the truth to people and be confident that the political system, especially democratic political systems, will in the end deliver.”

Guterres refused to comment on US President Donald Trump and the Trump administration’s hostility to climate action, but a CBS News poll released on September 15 found that 69 percent of Americans want the next president to take action, while 53 percent say such action is needed “right now.” Guterres said that “it would be much better” if the United States was “strongly committed to climate action,” just as it would be better if Asian countries (notably, China and Japan) stopped exporting coal plants. Until then, he said, “what I want is to have the whole society putting pressure on governments to understand they need to run faster. Because we are losing the race.”

With six days remaining before the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23, the secretary general cited the “fantastic leadership” of young activists as a leading example of how civil society can pressure governments to honor the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and preferably to 1.5˚C. Recent election results across Europe—in which green parties gained significant public backing—also left Guterres optimistic that at next Monday’s summit the European Union will announce that it promises to be “carbon neutral” by 2050, as the Paris Agreement mandates.

“Nature is angry,” said Guterres, who recently returned from a visit to the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian unleashed what he called “total destruction.” He further cited a ferocious drought in Africa, melting glaciers, bleaching coral reefs, the hottest month in recorded history last July, and a potential future sea-level rise of 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet) as evidence that “you cannot play games with nature. Nature strikes back.”





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