'Code red for humanity': Landmark UN climate report 'sobering', PM says

9 August 2021, 11:10 | Updated: 10 August 2021, 05:38

Wildfires in California last September turned San Francisco's skyline red and orange
Wildfires in California last September turned San Francisco's skyline red and orange. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The UN's landmark climate change report "makes for sobering reading", Boris Johnson has said, while secretary-general Antonio Guterres described it as "code red for humanity".

After the publication found that humans are having an "unequivocal" impact on the climate, governments are now under increasing pressure to rapidly scale up action on global warming

The latest global review from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the world will reach or exceed temperature rises of 1.5C over the next two decades.

This figure is seen as a threshold beyond which the worst impacts of global warming will be felt.

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The report found that without fast, deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, temperature rises in the 21st century will exceed both the 1.5C and a higher, riskier 2C warming limit agreed to by countries in the international Paris climate treaty.

Responding, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the review must act as a "code red for humanity".

He warned: "The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.

"Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible. The internationally agreed threshold of 1.5C is perilously close."

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Mr Guterres urged nations around the world to urgently ramp up efforts and set out plans for cutting emissions this decade ahead of November's crucial UN climate summit taking place in Glasgow.

He also called for an end to coal-fired power plants and fossil fuel exploration, a shift to renewable energy and funding to protect vulnerable communities, and said Covid-19 recovery spending must be in line with climate goals.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was clear the next ten years are going to be vital in protecting the Earth's future.

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“Today’s report makes for sobering reading, and it is clear that the next decade is going to be pivotal to securing the future of our planet.

"We know what must be done to limit global warming - consign coal to history and shift to clean energy sources, protect nature and provide climate finance for countries on the frontline."

Mr Johnson - whose government is due to publish its strategy on cutting UK emissions to zero overall by mid-century this autumn, but faces concerns over how to fairly pay for the move - added: "The UK is leading the way, decarbonising our economy faster than any country in the G20 over the last two decades.

"I hope today's IPCC report will be a wake-up call for the world to take action now before we meet in Glasgow in November for the critical Cop26 summit."

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Alok Sharma, Cop26 president, said: "The science is clear, the impacts of the climate crisis can be seen around the world and if we don't act now, we will continue to see the worst effects impact lives, livelihoods and natural habitats.

"Our message to every country, government, business and part of society is simple. The next decade is decisive, follow the science and embrace your responsibility to keep the goal of 1.5C alive."

He called on governments to put forward ambitious 2030 emissions reduction targets and long-term strategies with a pathway to net-zero by the middle of the century.

Mr Sharma added that those in power need to take immediate action to end coal power, accelerate the rollout of electric vehicles, tackle deforestation and reduce methane emissions.

However, the UK Government is also facing calls for more action from within Britain's borders.

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband warned that the UN's publication highlights what recent floods, heatwaves and wildfires are also showing, that "climate breakdown has already begun, that it's accelerating across the globe".

He added that the case for transformative action to reduce emissions was not only the overwhelming moral choice, but the only sensible prudent economic course - and that Labour was committed to making most of the needed cuts in the next decade.

"The biggest threat we now face is not climate denial but climate delay, including from the UK Government," he said.

"The scene is now set for Cop26, our last, best hope of a global breakthrough to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees.

"The message to the Government here and those around the world is enough rhetoric, enough delay - the era of action is now."

Campaigners also used the report to urge the UK Government to do more to reduce carbon emissions.

Jake Woodier, from The Climate Coalition, which includes groups ranging from the National Trust and the Women's Institute to WWF, Oxfam and the RSPB, said: "Climate change is already here, and after a summer of chaotic and destructive weather, the public want Boris Johnson's government to act decisively.

"We already know what's needed to secure a safer future: from saying no to polluting fossil fuels like the Cambo oil field, to restoring the natural world, protecting forests and meeting financial promises to support people on the frontline of the climate crisis.

"Now, it's time to get on and do it," he urged.

Professor Joanna Haigh, from Imperial College London, said: "The window is still open for governments to avoid the worst impacts and risks and to secure a strong outcome at Cop26 just three months away - but this will depend on nations coming forward ahead of the summit to put in place robust emission reduction plans for the next decade.

"This window won't remain open for much longer," she warned.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the report "is the starkest reminder yet that the climate crisis is here right now and is the biggest long-term threat we face".

He said: "It confirms that the extreme weather events of recent months are only going to become more frequent and that we need urgent action both to drive down emissions in this decisive decade and to adapt to the changes to our climate that are already baked in.

"The biggest threat we now face is not climate denial but climate delay. Those who, like our prime minister, acknowledge there is a problem, but simply don't have the scale of ambition required to match the moment.

"Our communities and planet can no longer afford the inaction of this government, who are failing to treat the crisis with the seriousness it deserves."

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey tweeted: "There is still time to save the planet, but only if we act now. Boris Johnson's dither and delay is costing us time we cannot afford, with drastic consequences.

"As host of Cop26, the UK needs to lead the world in tackling the climate crisis. No excuses."