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UN chief on climate change: Stop the plunder, begin the healing

Failure to combat global warming 'suicidal', he says, adding the pandemic is a chance to save planet

NEW YORK: Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) Antonio Guterres on Wednesday denounced a "suicidal" failure to combat global warming, and said recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic could be humanity's chance for a reset to save the planet.

"The state of the planet is broken. Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal," the UN chief said in a speech at Columbia University in New York City.

"Next year, we have the opportunity to stop plunder and begin healing," he added.

"Covid recovery and our planet's repair must be two sides of the same coin."

Mr Guterres called for a reduction in use of fossil fuels, and said a summit planned on Dec 12 for the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate change agreement should chart a new way forward.

"A new world is taking shape," he said. "Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction.

"Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes. Deserts are spreading. Wetlands are being lost. Every year, we lose 10 million ha of forests.

"Oceans are overfished - and choking with plastic waste. The carbon dioxide they absorb is acidifying the seas. Coral reefs are bleached and dying. Air and water pollution are killing nine million people annually."

As such, "making peace with nature" must "be the top, top priority" of the 21st century, he warned, adding: "There is no vaccine for the planet".

Welcoming the first commitments towards carbon neutrality from China, the European Union, Japan and South Korea, he hoped that the movement would become global.

"Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050," he concluded.

And to underscore the point, this year is on course to be one of the three warmest ever recorded and could even top the record set in 2016, the UN said .

The past six years, 2015 to this year, are therefore set to make up all six of the hottest years since modern records began in 1850, the UN's World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said in its provisional 2020 State Of The Global Climate report.

The WMO said 2020 seemed on course to be the second-hottest year ever - but the difference between the top three is small and the picture could change once this year's data sets are complete. - AFP

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