By Heather Pearson
Climate change is currently “the most systemic threat to humankind,” according to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.
Speaking last week, Guterres pushed for world leaders to lessen their greenhouse gas emissions. However, when addressing the United States, he stated that “independently of the position of the administration, the U.S. might be able to meet the commitments made in Paris as a country,” especially “as you know, all around the world, the role of governments is less and less relevant.”
According to Somini Sengupta, climate writer for the New York Times, this claim “may be overly optimistic.” Since Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris accord, only sixteen out of fifty states have committed to the accord’s call to reduce emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025. While those sixteen states are currently on track to do so, the other thirty four are not.
Though the Trump administration began these changes in environmental policy about a year ago alongside a statement of withdrawal from the Paris accord, agreements within the contract outline that the U.S. cannot actually withdraw from the accord until 2020. However, among countries within the pact, the U.S. is not alone in failure to reach the goals pledged in 2015: the majority of countries within the agreement are far from meeting their targets. Additionally, at the time of the drafting of the accord, these goals were already being criticized as “too little, too late” and “far too weak” by climate activists.
Guterres’ call to action follows recent news outlining the already-occurring negative effects of climate change. Extreme weather events worldwide in 2017 have cost collectively over $320, making it the “costliest year on record for such disasters.” Additionally, headlines this week have focused upon the increasing size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest collecting of floating trash, located between Hawai’i and California and consisting of microplastics as well as gear from the fishing industry. Another recent report, Foresight Future of the Sea, stated that plastic pollution in the sea “could triple by 2050 unless a ‘major response’ is mounted to prevent plastic from reaching the ocean.”
Guterres’ warnings about climate change draw attention not only to these economic and environmental concerns, but the human impact already being felt by millions of people worldwide, most often those who are already marginalized and vulnerable. He spoke of current floods in South Asia and droughts throughout Africa, as well as more floods and landslides affecting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, who are still awaiting relocation to higher ground by the Bangladesh government.
“I am beginning to wonder how many more alarm bells must go off before the world rises to the challenge,” Guterres stated. “We know it can be hard to address problems perceived to be years or decades away. But climate impacts are already upon us.”