The U.N.'s top human rights official and U.S. President Joe Biden's climate envoy called for countries to step up the fight against global warming Thursday, describing it as an issue of sheer survival for humankind.
In a statement ahead of the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, the global body's High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, "Only urgent, priority action can mitigate or avert disasters that will have huge — and in some cases, lethal — impacts on all of us, especially our children and grandchildren."
Bachelet urged governments taking part in the climate meeting, which runs Sunday through Nov. 13, to make good on pledges of financial aid to help poor countries that are most at risk to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and cope with the impacts of global warming.
"This is a human rights obligation and a matter of survival," she said. "Without a healthy planet to live on, there will be no human rights, and if we continue on our current path, there may be no humans."
Her words were echoed by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, who warned of the dramatic impacts that exceeding the 2015 Paris accord's goal on global warming will have on nature and people.
"Devastating consequences follow if we exceed the 1.5 degrees (Celsius, 2.7 Fahrenheit)," he said in a speech Thursday at the London School of Economics. "And we are now already just about at 1.2 C.
"No one is exaggerating when they call this an existential threat. Just ask the people in the Marshall Islands, Fiji or in the vulnerable nations of the world," Kerry said.
Still, the diplomat tried to strike an upbeat note ahead of the summit, which brings together tens of thousands of officials, scientists and climate activists.
"I head to Glasgow as an optimist," he said, noting that governments have put forward more ambitious climate plans than ever before.
Kerry cited recent commitments by the Biden administration for the United States to aim for "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, similar moves by other nations and business and a growing awareness of the urgency of tackling climate change.
Citing a recent U.N. report highlighting the gap between countries' pledges and what scientists say is needed to cap warming at 1.5 C by the end of the century, Kerry said particular responsibility lies with the top 20 economies of the world. Many of those countries will be gathering for a G-20 meeting in Rome this weekend, where climate is expected to be a major topic.
Kerry noted that China, the world's top polluter, is alone emitting about 80% of the greenhouse gas the entire world can afford to pump into the atmosphere if it wants to meet the Paris goal.
Beijing has said it plans to peak emissions before 2030 and hit net zero by 2060 — a decade later than the United States and the European Union, which have historically contributed the most to global warming.
Kerry said Glasgow "is not the end of the road" and countries must keep raising their targets over the coming years.
A report released Thursday by climate think tanks says changes in sectors from power generation to industry and agriculture need to speed up.
It looked at 40 indicators and "the bad news is right now that none of them are on track," said report co-author Kelly Levin, the chief of Science, Data and Systems Change at the Bezos Earth Fund.
"The bright spots are few and far between, to be honest," Levin said. "And for the large majority of the indicators, even when we're seeing change headed in the right direction, one would need to accelerate that pace of change, and by a factor, often times, of more than double."
Separately, the Red Cross federation said climate and weather-related disasters have caused more than 30 million people to flee their homes in 2020 — three times more than the number of people displaced by war.
These included countries such as Iraq, Yemen and Mozambique, but also rich nations such as Germany, which this year saw devastating floods in the west
"While climate change affects everyone, it has a disproportionate impact on the world's poorest people, those who are contributing the least to climate change," Red Cross Secretary-General Jagan Chapagain said in the report.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.