Confronted with a climate crisis threatening civilisation itself, humanity must choose between hope and surrender, UN chief Antonio Guterres said at the UN climate conference in Madrid on Monday.
“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?” Guterres asked.
Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived at the event a day late, after sailing across the Atlantic to reach Spain.
The COP25 conference was originally meant to be held in Chile, to give South American countries a chance to show how they are tackling climate change. But unrest in the country led to a last-minute change of venue, forcing Greta to hitch a ride back to Europe.
As the 12-day talks began, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen at one point held up a plush polar bear.
“All of you, just like me, are so-called decision-makers, and probably have children or grandchildren who you love,” he said. “Think about those children when you take a decision on behalf of your country.”
But few heads of state from the world’s major carbon polluters turned up. Notably absent were the leaders of China, the United States, India, Russia and Japan, which together account for 60 per cent of global CO2 emissions.
“What is still lacking is political will – to put a price on carbon, to stop subsidies on fossil fuels, to stop building coal power plants,” said Guterres. He criticised the efforts of the world’s biggest economies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as “utterly inadequate”.
However, US Congressional leader Nancy Pelosi turned up to assure the world that the US was still serious about tackling climate change despite President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord.