The way we are moving is a suicide,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said in a recent interview, and humanity’s survival will be “impossible” if the United States doesn’t rejoin the Paris Agreement and achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, as the incoming Biden administration has pledged.
The secretary general said that “of course” he had been in touch with President-elect Biden and looked forward to welcoming the United States into a “global coalition for net zero by 2050” that the UN has organized. The country is the world’s largest cumulative source of heat-trapping emissions and its biggest military and economic power, Guterres noted, so “there is no way we can solve the [climate] problem…without strong American leadership.”
In an extraordinary, if largely unheralded, diplomatic achievement, most of the world’s leading emitters have already joined the UN’s “net zero by 2050” coalition, including the European Union, Japan, the United Kingdom, and China (which is the world’s largest source of annual emissions and has committed to achieving carbon neutrality “before 2060”). India, meanwhile, the world’s third largest annual emitter, is the only Group of 20 country on track to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, despite needing to lift many of its people out of poverty, an achievement Guterres called “remarkable.” Along with fellow petro-state Russia, the United States has been the only major holdout, after Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing the country from the Paris Agreement soon after he became president four years ago.
The new pledges could bring the Paris Agreement’s goals “within reach,” provided that the pledges are fulfilled, concluded an analysis by the independent research group Climate Action Tracker. If so, temperature rise could be limited to 2.1 C, the group said—higher than the agreement’s target of 1.5 to 2 C, but a major improvement from the 3 to 5 C future that business as usual would deliver.
“The targets set at Paris were always meant to be increased over time,” Guterres said. “[Now,] we need to align those commitments with a 1.5 C future, and then you must implement.”
This is an excerpt of a story that originally appeared in The Nation and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.