Climate change: UN chief Guterres decries 'fading' global efforts

Political efforts to cool climate change are "fading" as things get worse, Antonio Guterres warned. He's visiting New Zealand en route to South Pacific islands that are at risk of being inundated by rising sea levels.

Arriving in Auckland Sunday, Guterres said the world was "not on track" to confine the rise in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as agreed in the 2015 Paris agreement.

Nature and Environment | 30.04.2019

"The paradox is that as things are getting worse on the ground, political will seems to be fading," said the UN secretary general.

"Climate change is running faster than what we are … the last four years have been the hottest registered," he said, adding that political inadequacy was evident "everywhere."

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He commended host Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on New Zealand's ambitious parliamentary bill, tabled last week, seeking to make the 5-million-population nation mostly carbon neutral by 2050.

Its key farming sector, however, is to be given some leeway, specifically on "biogenetic methane," another climate-warming gas alongside carbon dioxide.

Guterres, who will also visit the South Pacific island territories of Fiji, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, urged the world community to "protect the lives of our people, and we need to protect our planet."

Guterres met with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Auckland

His remarks precede a Climate Action Summit he plans to convene in New York in September where nations will be asked to present "concrete, realistic plans" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade and reach net zero by 2050.

On Friday, Luis Alfonso de Alba, the top UN envoy entrusted with preparing September's summit, called for a "drastic" rethink of the global economic model.

Required was a "transformation of the way we consume, the way we produce," de Alba said. "This is not a process in which we can aim at a gradual increase of ambitions."

Trillions of dollars in private funding would be "indispensable," he added.

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Christchurch visit

Guterres also planned to visit Christchurch on his three-day New Zealand stopover and meet leaders of the Muslim community targeted on March 15 by a lone gunman who broadcast the massacre via social media.

Last week, the death toll rose to 51, with the death in hospital of a Turkish citizen critically wounded during the shooting attack on two Christchurch mosques.

Guterres said he would pay tribute to Muslim courage and New Zealand solidarity during the visit, which coincides with the month of Ramadan.

He praised New Zealand's parliament for tightening gun control laws and Ardern's determination to prevent extremist acts being broadcast online.

She and French President Emmanuel Macron are to host a meeting on the matter in Paris on Wednesday.

Doomsday tourism and climate change: Visiting natural wonders before they disappear

Transient treasure

Of the 2 million-odd people who visit the Great Barrier Reef annually, a 2016 survey found that 69 percent were coming to see the UNESCO World Heritage site "before it's too late." And no wonder. The IPCC says that even if we manage to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, 99 percent of the world's coral will be wiped out. Tourists can hasten their demise by touching or polluting reefs.

Doomsday tourism and climate change: Visiting natural wonders before they disappear

Bearly there

And what's the carbon cost of flying to remote natural wonders under threat? A 2010 study found that the business of polar-bear safaris in Churchill, Canada, had an annual CO2 footprint of 20 megatons. Most visitors arrived by plane, and while 88 percent of them said humans were responsible for climate change, only 69 percent agreed that air travel was a contributing cause.

Doomsday tourism and climate change: Visiting natural wonders before they disappear

Art of the apocalypse

Along with the polar bear, one of the most iconic images of climate change must be the dramatic curves of an iceberg sculpted by the warming atmosphere. Gliding between the melting giants on a cruise ship is a haunting experience that tourists will pay huge sums for. In the early 1990s just 5,000 people visited Antarctica each year, compared to over 46,000 in 2018.

Doomsday tourism and climate change: Visiting natural wonders before they disappear

Peak season

You don't have to go to the poles to see vanishing ice. Kilimanjaro's snowy peaks are a striking sight above the equatorial savannah of the national park, which generates €44 million ($50 million) from tourism annually. Many visitors climb to the Furtwängler Glacier — where 85 percent of the ice has vanished over the last century. The rest is unlikely to survive much beyond mid-century.

Doomsday tourism and climate change: Visiting natural wonders before they disappear

King without a crown

When Montana's Glacier National Park opened in 1910, it boasted over 100 of the ice features from which it took its name. Now, there are fewer than two dozen. So dramatic is their retreat, that the park has become a center of climate science research. Some 3 million hikers and holidaymakers also visit the "crown of the continent" each year, soaking in the dying days of its ice-capped glory.

Doomsday tourism and climate change: Visiting natural wonders before they disappear

Paradise lost

The Maldives are the archetypal tourist paradise: 1,200 coral islands with white beaches rising just 2.5 meters above the turquoise waters. In 2017, the president decided to build new airports and megaresorts to accommodate seven times as many tourists, and use the revenue to build new islands and relocate communities. He has since been voted out of office and faces corruption charges.

Doomsday tourism and climate change: Visiting natural wonders before they disappear

Saltwater swamps

It's not just islands that are going under as sea levels rise. Wetlands like Florida's Everglades are disappearing too. Over the last century, around half the Everglades have been drained and turned over to agriculture. Now, saltwater is seeping into what's left, making it the only critically endangered World Heritage site in the United States.

Doomsday tourism and climate change: Visiting natural wonders before they disappear

Disturbing the peace

The Galapagos will be forever associated with Darwin, who realized their unique wildlife had evolved over countless generations in isolation. Today, they are besieged by visitors and environmental changes are happening too fast for species to adapt. Ocean warming has left iconic creatures like the marine iguana starving, while UNESCO lists tourism among the greatest threats to the archipelago.

ipj/ng (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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