UN chief wants rich countries to hasten climate efforts and close ‘gates to hell’

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday demanded that wealthy nations take the lead in the fight against climate change — launching his one-day Climate Ambition Summit held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

“Humanity has opened the gates to hell,” the U.N. chief said in his opening remarks, calling on world leaders to “make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”

Guterres made a point in hosting a summit attended by what he described as the “first movers and doers from governments, business, finance, local authorities and civil society,” hoping this would spur momentum ahead of the COP28 climate talks in Dubai at the end of November. He urged deep-pocketed countries to join a Climate Solidarity Pact — where nations that have contributed the most to the climate emergency should “hit fast forward” in curbing their emissions and help struggling economies transition to cleaner forms of energy.

But the response at the summit was underwhelming.

The world̵7;s top two polluters — China and the U.S. — didn’t get speaking slots. The No. 3 polluter, the European Union, insisted that the bloc is already doing a good job.

During the conference, the U.K. backtracked on the pace of its net-zero commitments; the host of the 2021 COP26 climate talks was also conspicuously absent from the summit.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen did speak. She outlined the bloc’s existing green commitments, stressing that the EU has pledged to slash its carbon emissions by “at least 55 percent” by the end of the decade.

“And the good news is we are on track to overshoot this goal already,” she said.

She went on to emphasize the bloc’s support for the idea of tripling global renewables and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, vowing that the EU will invest around €4 billion into clean energy and hydrogen in developing economies over the next five years as part of the Global Gateway initiative.

She also insisted the EU is doing its bit in helping poorer countries. Wealthy countries have pledged to supply $100 billion a year in climate finance — a target they’ve promised but failed to hit in the past. Von der Leyen stressed that the EU will “contribute its fair share of $27 billion, as we did the last year.”

The EU is also balking at Guterres’ call to speed up climate neutrality pledges to 2040. The bloc aims to become climate neutral by 2050, which is already “very, very ambitious,” EU Green Deal chief Maroš Šefčovič told POLITICO before the start of the summit.

The tone clashed with the sense of urgency that Guterres was trying to impart, calling for countries to speed up climate neutrality, fortify clean energy investments and phase out dirty fossil fuels. The planet is already 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than in preindustrial times and estimates say warming could hit 2.8C if industrialized countries — responsible for 80 percent of global emissions — fail to swiftly cut their greenhouse gas pollution.

“Horrendous heat is having horrendous effects. Distraught farmers watching crops carried away by floods. Sweltering temperatures spawning disease,” the secretary-general said, adding we are heading “towards a dangerous and unstable world.”