Antonio Guterres, who took over the reins from Ban Ki-Moon at the start of the year, described climate change as the “defining element of our time”. In an interview with Channel 4 news this week, the former Portuguese Prime Minister warned the world could ill-afford to waste any more time on reversing the impacts of global warming.
“Climate change is, to an extent, the defining element of our time,” he said. “These are critical moments. We know that either we act now or we will create irreversible damage to our planet that will make our grandchildren suffer a lot.”
Guterres was selected to lead the global body after seeing off a fierce challenge from the likes of former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres. He has pledged to work closely with Figueres’ successes, former Mexican diplomat Patricia Espinosa to increase “strategic cooperation” with governments and the private sector to decarbonise the global economy.
Speaking on Wednesday (10 May), he expressed his belief that the US will remain an active player in the global low-carbon transition, despite a clear political disinterest in the early phases of the Donald Trump administration. Speculation has risen in the past week over a potential US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – a landmark deal spearheaded by Guterres’ predecessor – which aims to keep global average temperature to “well-below 2C” above pre-industrial levels.
A host of business leaders, investors and politicians have urged the White House to reconsider its apathy towards the deal. These calls were echoed by Guterres, although the UN chief stressed that the business community was readily equipped to take on the mantle should federal support falter.
“I can only encourage all countries, and of course the US, to stay in the Paris Agreement,” Guterres said. “But today, governments are not the only entities that matter in climate change. We have seen more and more that those who are betting on technologies that allow us to fight climate change will be those that dominate the economy of tomorrow.
“I am a strong believer in the dynamism of the business community, the cities, the states, the American society, to make sure that the US stays the course in relation to the reduction of emissions.”
Guterres’ message reflect the beliefs of former President Barack Obama, who claimed earlier this week that the clean energy revolution in the US had been “locked-in” by the actions of the private sector.