UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres cited the devastating floods in Kerala and the wildfires in California as he expressed concern that climate change is "running faster than we are” and called for urgency and action to prevent ever greater climate-related crises.
The UN chief said last year, climate-related disasters were responsible for thousands of deaths and USD 320 billion dollars in losses.
"Climate change is running faster than we are. The impacts are devastating, and it is usually the poorest and the most vulnerable who are hit first and worst by storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and rising seas," Guterres said at the launch of the 2018 New Climate Economy report here on Wednesday.
"This year, we have seen the terrible flooding in Kerala in India, savage wildfires in California and Canada, and dramatic warming in the Arctic that is affecting weather patterns across the northern hemisphere. The trend is clear. The last 19 years included 18 of the warmest years on record, and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise," he said.
Kerala witnessed the worst flooding in 100 years. About 80 dams had overflowed and more than 370 lives lost. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that a total of 1.2 million people affected by floods had been housed in 3,314 relief camps in the state.
Guterres warned that runaway climate change is a real possibility, with severe implications for communities, economies, peace and the security of nations.
"Climate change has been proven to amplify and exacerbate other risks. Put simply, we need climate action to prevent ever greater crises. We must act with greater ambition and urgency," he said.
The document, published by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate – a project comprising several UN bodies and other institutions – finds that the benefits of smarter and clearer growth are significantly under-estimated, and that bold climate action could deliver USD 26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030.
Other benefits of switching to a clean economy include the creation of over 65 million new low-carbon jobs, and 700,000 fewer air pollution-related deaths.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister of Nigeria and co-chair of the Global Commission, said, "Policy makers should take their feet off the brakes, send a clear signal that the new growth story is here and that it comes with exciting economic and market opportunities. USD 26 trillion and a more sustainable planet are on offer if we act decisively now."
Guterres added that momentum for climate action is growing every day, with over 130 of the world's most influential companies now committed to using only renewable energy, fossil fuel-dependent countries looking to diversify and over 250 investors with USD 28 trillion in managed assets signing on to the Climate Action 100+ initiative.
The Climate Action is a five-year initiative led by investors to engage systemically important greenhouse gas emitters and other companies across the global economy that have significant opportunities to drive the clean energy transition and help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Guterres said clean energy systems help developing countries, where over a billion people still do not have access to electricity.
"It can help deliver access to energy to the one billion people who currently lack electricity," he added.
Underlining the risks faced by the world, the UN chief said women, the poorest and the most vulnerable are hit first and worst by storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and rising seas.
The UN Secretary-General said climate change will be high on the agenda of the 2018 opening session of the General Assembly, as part of efforts to galvanise action ahead of the milestone 2020 meeting of parties to the 2015 Paris Agreement.