UN Secretary-General on a Mission

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres used to love steak houses. But now he goes only once every three months because livestock contribute to climate change, he explained to AP.

He is a man on a mission. “We are not on track to achieve the objectives defined in the Paris Agreement,” Guterres said in Wellington, New Zealand, during a trip to nations in the South Pacific to dramatize the climate challenge and exhort the world to take stronger action. “And the paradox is that as things are getting worse on the ground, political will seems to be fading.

Guterres spoke two days after data from the Muana Loa Observatory in Hawaii showed that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any point since the evolution of humans. The concentration of CO2 levels in the atmosphere has surpassed 415 parts per million.

The secretary-general is summoning world leaders to the Climate Action Summit at the UN in September to tell them “they need to do much more in order for us to be able to reverse the present trends and to defeat climate change.”

"It is achievable, but it needs a transformational approach," Guterres told AP’s Seth Brenstein and Edith M. Lederer. He said that he will ask leaders to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, which totaled more than $300 billion in 2017 (and that doesn't even count production subsidies). He said he wants countries to build no new coal power plants after 2020 and to put a price on the use of carbon.

The UN’s top official said the wholesale economic changes needed to keep the temperature from rising another degree or more may be painful, but there will be more pain if the world fails.

Over the past three years storms, wildfires, and other events in this country declared national disasters caused $457 billion in damage, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. They included flooding in much of Houston, storms ravaging Puerto Rico and wiping out communities like Mexico Beach in Florida’s Panhandle, and a devastating wildfire in Paradise in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills, The Wall Street Journal’s Erin Ailworth reported.

And the toll seems certain to increase. As emergency managers prepare for hurricane and wildfire seasons, Ailworth wrote, they say continuing development and higher population in vulnerable areas will likely amplify the damage and devastation.

Meteorologists expect more than a dozen named storms in the Atlantic this year, slightly above average. In California, a burst of vegetation from rains could serve as fuel in the dry summer months and heighten the wildfire danger in some areas, forecasters say. Meantime, the wettest 12 months in the Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley in 124 years led to extensive flooding recently along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Guterres can see a silver lining. As disasters mount and deaths increase, the public, especially young people, will realize that warming is “a dramatic threat to the whole of humankind,” he told Borenstein and Lederer. So the worse it gets, he reasons, the more people will demand change.

ALL of us should be demanding change. Congress should enact a carbon fee and take other steps to counter the climate change that threatens our health and prosperity.