Home   News   Article

Subscribe Now

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres at University of Cambridge: ‘We are heading for uninhabitable world due to climate catastrophe’





The UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned that current climate pledges “put us on course for an uninhabitable world” as he collected an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge.

He issued the dire warning in an address at Senate House in the city, where he accepted the honorary degree of Doctor of Law on Wednesday.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, right, at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, right, at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge

Mr Guterres said: “We are careening toward climate catastrophe, unless we act now to keep temperature rises to the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement.

“Current pledges put us on course for an uninhabitable world, with temperatures at least two degrees higher than they were in pre-industrial times.

“Biodiversity is collapsing, with a million species at risk of extinction. We are polluting and poisoning air, water and land.”

Mr Guterres, who had travelled from the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, and also took part in a panel discussion at Pembroke College on Thursday morning, said that the University of Cambridge was “at the forefront of efforts to tackle these crises” through its climate change initiative Cambridge Zero and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.

The secretary general also issued a warning about global injustices.

“Beyond our war on nature, we face a crisis in the values on which the United Nations was founded 76 years ago: trust, solidarity, truth,” he said.

“Levels of inequality are breathtaking. Billionaires are competing in outer space while millions struggle to survive here on Earth.

“Poverty and hunger are rising for the first time in decades. Human rights are under fire.

“Geopolitical divisions threaten to paralyse international co-operation. Unregulated technologies present enormous new risks.

“Trust between people and institutions is fraying. Conspiracy theories and disinformation are fuelling social divisions and polarisation.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed a world of fragilities and injustice.

“A world of winner takes all; and devil take the hindmost.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, right, at the University of Cambridge. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, right, at the University of Cambridge. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA

“Scientists, including here in Cambridge, succeeded in understanding the virus and its mutations through genomic sequencing, and developed vaccines in record time.

“But grossly unequal access to those vaccines means that less than five percent of people have received even one dose in low-income countries.

“This is not just immoral; it’s stupid, because it increases the risk of new and more dangerous variants.

“And lopsided vaccination rates are creating a lopsided recovery, which will ultimately cost trillions to the entire global economy.

“The same selfish short-termism is apparent far beyond the pandemic, in global approaches to nuclear disarmament, artificial intelligence, the regulation of new technologies, and many other areas.

“Global governance is at a crossroads.

“Either we work together with renewed solidarity to build sustainable, inclusive societies and economies, based on human rights and human dignity for all. Or we resign ourselves to a future of perpetual insecurity and crisis.”

But Mr Guterres said the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership was offering an example of the way forward, by “demonstrating that academia and the corporate sector can work together to drive transformative change”.

And he urged people to support a UN initiative to strengthen multilateralism, called Our Common Agenda, with an emphasis on long-term thinking, human rights and a focus on facts and science.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Stephen J Toope, said: "I am delighted that the university has today honoured the secretary-general, António Guterres with an honorary degree. In doing so, Cambridge is also recognising the work of his UN colleagues around the globe.

“The secretary-general is playing a crucial role in the arduous negotiations taking place at COP26, and has been stark in his warning about the risks we are up against. But he has also given us hope.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, right, at the University of Cambridge. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, right, at the University of Cambridge. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA

“The UN’s ‘Our Common Agenda’ initiative is a rousing call to strengthen multilateralism. In emphasising the importance of long-term thinking, and in proposing a greater focus on facts and science, it aligns with our university’s approach to tackling some of the world’s most complex challenges.

“I am very grateful to the secretary-general for acknowledging that, in the face of such challenges, universities ‘hold many of the solutions we need. Not only climate scientists and pharmacologists, but sociologists, lawyers, economists and experts in every discipline (…) researching ideas that can lead to breakthroughs for the common good’. Cambridge will do its utmost to live up to that expectation."

Prof Emily Shuckburgh, the director of Cambridge Zero, said: “The secretary-general has said we need institutions dedicated to learning, critical thinking and pushing the boundaries of human understanding. We are responding to that by channeling ideas and innovations from Cambridge to shape climate-resilient net-zero futures for every citizen of the world.”

The university’s chancellor, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, conferred the honorary degree on Mr Guterres on Wednesday.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, right, at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, right, at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge

This morning (Thursday), Mr Guterres joined a panel discussion on the ethics of climate change in front of a student audience at Pembroke College with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams, Pembroke master Lord Chris Smith, Professor Richard Sennett, the student union postgraduate president Anjum Nahar and second-year geography student Maryam Grassl, who is a member of Extinction Rebellion.

Read more

Stem & Glory becomes Hero of Net Zero at COP26

Interactive flood risk map: See how rising sea levels could impact your area of Cambridgeshire by 2030

Cambridgeshire County Council divided on using ‘green gas’ over fossil fuels

Sign up for our weekly newsletter for a digest of news, sport, science, business and culture direct to your inbox



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More