United Nations chief tells WEF world is in a ‘sorry state’

UN chief Antonio Guterres singled out climate change as an "existential challenge".

UN chief Antonio Guterres singled out climate change as an "existential challenge". Photo: AP

The world is in a “sorry state” because of myriad “interlinked” challenges including climate change and Russia’s war in Ukraine that are “piling up like cars in a chain reaction crash,” the UN chief has told the World Economic Forum.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered his gloomy message on the second day of the elite gathering of world leaders and corporate executives in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

Sessions took a grim turn on Wednesday when news broke of a helicopter crash in Ukraine that killed at least 15 people, including Ukraine’s interior minister and other officials.

Forum President Borge Brende requested 15 seconds of silence and Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska dabbed teary eyes, calling it “another very sad day”, then telling attendees that “we can also change this negative situation for the better”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was scheduled to address the conclave by video link as the Ukrainian delegation that includes his wife pushes for more aid, including weapons, from international allies to fight Russia.

Speaking shortly before Mr Zelensky is German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is facing pressure to send tanks to help Ukraine and is the only G7 leader to attend Davos.

Mr Guterres said the widest levels of geopolitical division and mistrust in generations were undermining efforts to tackle global problems, which also include widening inequality, a cost-of-living crisis sparked by soaring inflation and an energy crunch, lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply-chain disruptions and more.

He singled out climate change as an “existential challenge”, and said a global commitment to limit the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5C “is nearly going up in smoke”.

Mr Guterres, who has been one of the most outspoken world figures on climate change, referenced a recent study that found scientists at Exxon Mobil made remarkably accurate predictions about the effects of climate change as far back as the 1970s, even as the company publicly doubted that warming was real.

“We learned last week that certain fossil fuel producers were fully aware in the 1970s that their core product was baking our planet,” he said in his speech. “Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie.”

Critics have questioned the impact of the four-day meeting where politicians, CEOs and other leaders discuss the world’s problems – and make deals on the sidelines – but where concrete action is harder to measure.

Environmentalists, for example, slam the carbon-spewing private jets that ferry in bigwigs to an event that prioritises the battle against climate change.

On the second day, government officials, corporate titans, academics and activists were attending dozens of panel sessions on topics covering the metaverse, environmental greenwashing and artificial intelligence.


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