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As diplomats gathered in Milan for a Pre-COP 26 meeting, hundreds of people participated in a Fridays For Future climate march on October 1, 2021. (Photo: Stefano Guidi via Getty Images)

As diplomats gathered in Milan for a Pre-COP 26 meeting, hundreds of people participated in a Fridays For Future climate march on October 1, 2021. (Photo: Stefano Guidi via Getty Images)

'Time Is Running Out,' Says UN Chief as Thunberg and Nakate Lead Climate March in Milan

"We have immense power," said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. "We can either save our world or condemn humanity to a hellish future."

Kenny Stancil

One day after United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told a group of diplomats that "time is running out" to address the planetary emergency, hundreds of young people marched in Milan on Friday to demand rapid and transformative climate action.

At the front were Swedish activist Greta Thunberg—catalyst of the Fridays for Future school strikes that have brought millions to the streets in cities around the globe since 2018—and Ugandan youth climate leader Vanessa Nakate.

Thunberg and Nakate were keynote speakers at the U.N.-sponsored Youth4Climate summit held from Tuesday through Thursday in Milan, where some 400 young people were invited to "develop concrete proposals that will be presented to the ministers attending the Pre-COP and COP 26," the U.N. climate summit that begins at the end of this month in Glasgow.

"We are so happy to be back in the street," Maria, a 15-year-old Italian activist, told Agence France-Presse on Friday. "We have to bring attention back to the huge issue that is the climate crisis."

Friday's march took place as officials from several dozen countries gathered in Milan to prepare for the upcoming COP 26 summit. Decisions made at the upcoming conference are expected to shape the pace of global decarbonization, which will have far-reaching implications for humanity's future.

During Thursday's opening session of the Pre-COP 26 meeting, Guterres reiterated his longstanding call for swift and robust interventions to slash greenhouse gas pollution and limit global warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels—the 2015 Paris agreement's more ambitious goal, which scientists say is key to averting the worst effects of climate change.

"Failure to deliver means massive loss of lives and livelihoods."
—António Guterres, U.N.

"I cannot emphasize enough that time is running out," Guterres said in his remarks, which were delivered virtually. "Irreversible climate tipping points lie alarmingly close. Civil society is watching closely and is running out of patience."

According to the U.N. chief, current targets and plans for reducing emissions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), are woefully inadequate and will lead to a "catastrophic" temperature increase of 2.7ºC by the end of the 21st century.

"We can only meet the 1.5 degree goal," he said, "if all G20 countries, which are responsible for 80% of global emissions, pledge more decisive action in new or updated NDCs."

Guterres asked "all nations to enhance NDCs and domestic policies as often as necessary and without delay until we are collectively on the right track."

"The single most effective step we can take to limit temperature rise," said Guterres, "is phasing out coal, beginning with no new coal power plants." He commended China for announcing last week that it would stop financing overseas coal projects and asked for governments in the U.S., Europe, and other parts of Asia, as well as private financial institutions, "to quickly follow suit... and fund a just transition toward universal access to renewable energy."

Guterres also noted that wealthy nations have pledged just $80 billion per year to help developing countries confront the climate crisis and urged them to provide more, stressing that the costs of adaptation are mounting as extreme weather disasters increase in frequency and intensity.

"Failure to deliver," he said, "means massive loss of lives and livelihoods."

"We have immense power," Guterres added. "We can either save our world or condemn humanity to a hellish future."

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