Climate change and instability in the Middle East pose the greatest threats to the world security for the next generation, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said at the commencement ceremony for Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service on May 19 in McDonough Arena.
Guterres, who previously served as the United Nations high commissioner for refugees from 2005 to 2015 and as the prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, addressed the SFS Class of 2018 on Saturday, telling the graduates that the global community had not yet taken sufficient action to combat climate change.
“We need to rush in order to make sure that we change the pattern of the global economy in order to be able to contain climate change, but we are not yet doing enough,” Guterres said.
Guterres acknowledged the significance of the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international accord to reduce climate change signed by 195 countries in 2016, but insisted that urgent action remained necessary if the agreement were to have the intended impact.
“We need not only to commit to respect the Paris Agreement, but we need to do it with an enhanced ambition,” Guterres said. “We need to do more [and to do it] faster, if we want to preserve our planet and to avoid the horrible consequences of what would be a higher increase in the global temperatures.”
The Paris climate accord, which is set to go into effect in 2020, aims to keep the increase in the global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to limit the increase to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius to lessen the impacts of climate change.
President Donald Trump announced in June 2017 his plan to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, because he said it would harm the U.S. economy. Despite Trump’s announcement, U.S. withdrawal will not be possible until November 4, 2020, as stipulated by the agreement.
Guterres warned of the consequences stemming from climate change, such as increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, rising sea levels and growing acidity of the oceans among others. However, Guterres said there are reasons to be optimistic about progress being made in combatting climate change.
“Technology is on our side,” Guterres said. “We see that there are more and more jobs being created in renewable energies, both in the United States and China, more than the jobs created by the oil and gas industry.”
Investing in renewable resources is not just a necessity, but it would also be beneficial in moving forward technology globally.
“The stone age did not end for lack of stones. There were plenty of rocks in the world at that time,” Guterres said. “The stone age ended because new technologies would be able to provide better societies. Let’s not wait for fossil fuels to end to end the fossil fuel age. Let’s make sure we all join our efforts to create a world with a green economy and a sustainable future.”
Shifting gears to international affairs, Guterres also pointed to conflicts in the Middle East as a growing threat to global security.
“We see that in the last decade, we have a multiplication of conflicts, and at the same time the old conflicts seem never to die, be it in Somalia, in Afghanistan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Guterres said.
However, these conflicts have also taken on new elements not previously seen in other global conflicts, according to Guterres.
“What is to a certain extent new is that these conflicts are becoming more and more interlinked with each other, with fighters going from one place to another, and more and more linked to what it is now a global threat of terrorism that, of course, creates insecurity and creates anxiety everywhere in today’s world,” Guterres said.
To conclude his speech, Guterres called upon the graduating seniors to take on the failures of his generation.
“Where my generation has largely failed, I strongly encourage to make sure that your generation delivers, that your generation creates the conditions to allow, with a strong commitment to service and using as much as possible all the talents that you have received in this school and multiplying them and distributing them, to make sure … that our future will allow my three granddaughters to live in a healthy world, without conflict and without suffering, and in a healthy planet that is green and sustainable,” Guterres said.