'We're facing a Category 5 hurricane': UN chief scathing at Davos

'We're facing a Category 5 hurricane': UN chief scathing at Davos
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck / Belga

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched a scathing attack on the world's political and business elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, and lamented a world "plagued by a perfect storm on a number of fronts".

"I am not here to sugar-coat the scale of [the] challenge — or the sorry state of our world," Guterres said. "We can't confront problems unless we look them squarely in the eye. And we are looking into the eye of a Category 5 hurricane."

Guterres went on to denounce the "morally bankrupt" global financial system, and condemned the "insanity" of energy companies' decision to expand fossil fuel production despite this being "inconsistent with human survival". He also demanded that Big Oil be "held to account" for its reckless disregard of the "existential challenge" posed by climate change.

"Every week brings a new climate horror story," Guterres said. "The commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C is nearly going up in smoke. Without further action, we are headed for a 2.8°C increase. The consequences, as we all know, would be devastating. Several parts of our planet would be uninhabitable. And for many, it would mean a death sentence."

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Guterres also deplored the recent increase in tensions between the US and China, as well as the growing North-South global divide, which he suggested had been exacerbated by Western countries' reluctance to issue developing countries debt relief and climate adaptation assistance.

Finally, he highlighted the current "untold suffering of the Ukrainian people", and drew attention to the fact that Russia's war in Ukraine also had "profound global implications", including on food and energy prices, nuclear safety, and "the very foundations of international law and the Charter of the United Nations".

This is not the first time in recent months that Guterres has issued such a frank rebuke to world leaders. At the COP27 Climate Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh last November, Guterres delivered a similarly scathing condemnation of world inaction in the face of the growing climate emergency, claiming that "we are on a highway to climate hell, with our foot still on the accelerator".

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