Record high temperatures should serve as a wake-up call for world leaders, Antonio Guterres said ahead of the COP28 climate summit FILE PHOTO: Sea ice seen off the coast of Antarctica, January 2017 © AP / Ted Scambos

Humankind is “living through climate collapse in real time,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres claimed in a speech on Thursday. Rising global temperatures have made 2023 the hottest year on record and contributed to unprecedented melting of ice caps and glaciers, according to UN data.

A provisional report by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed that 2023 is set to be the warmest year on record, with average global temperatures rising to 1.4 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Released on Thursday, the report also stated that sea levels have risen twice as fast over the last decade than they did in the ten years after satellite records began in 1993, and that the extent of Antarctic sea ice this year was the lowest on record.

“We are living through climate collapse in real time, and the results are devastating,” Guterres said in a video message to the UN’s COP28 climate conference in Dubai. “Record global heating should send shivers down the spines of world leaders. And it should trigger them to act.”

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The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) blames the rising temperatures on mankind’s carbon emissions. In a press release earlier this month, the UN stated that global emissions must fall by 28% to stop temperatures rising past 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, while remaining within the 1.5 degree limit will require a 42% cut.

UN members need to “triple renewables, double energy efficiency… and phase out fossil fuels,” Guterres said in his address.

It is unclear whether COP28, which runs from Thursday until December 12, will result in any new multilateral commitments to reduce fossil fuel usage. EU ministers failed to agree on a deadline for ending fossil fuel subsidies when they met in Luxembourg, while France and Germany have brought coal power plants back online to make up for the energy shortfall since they embargoed Russian gas.

In the developing world, a lack of funding is impeding the transition to renewable energy, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at the inaugural India Global Forum Middle East and Africa 2023 earlier this week. Furthermore, as the Indian government seeks to boost electric car ownership, the country will need to burn a billion tons of coal per year by 2031 to charge these vehicles, a 22% increase over current consumption, according to government figures.

Wealthy countries must honor their promise to deliver $100 billion per year to fund climate projects in the developing world, Guterres said, as well as doubling their funding for countries transitioning to green energy.

“The reality is that without much more finance flowing to developing countries, a renewables revolution will remain a mirage in the desert. COP28 must turn it into a reality,” UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell said on Thursday. “COP28 cannot be just a photo-op.”