Speaking before the start Monday of a two-week international climate conference in Madrid, the UN chief said the impact of rising temperatures — including more extreme weather — is already being felt around the world, with dramatic consequences for humans and other species.
He noted that the world has the scientific knowledge and the technical means to limit global warming, but “what is lacking is political will.”
“The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” Guterres told reporters in the Spanish capital.
“It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”
Delegates from almost 200 countries will try to put the finishing touches on the rules governing the 2015 Paris climate accord at the December 2-13 meeting, including how to create functioning international emissions trading systems and compensate poor countries for losses they suffer from rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change.
Guterres cited mounting scientific evidence for the impact that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are already having on the planet, including record temperatures and melting polar ice.
But he insisted that his message was “one of hope, not of despair. Our war against nature must stop and we know that that is possible.”
Countries agreed in Paris four years ago to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally 1.5C (2.7F) by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times.
Already, average temperatures have increased by about 1C, leaving little room for the more ambitious target to be met.
Guterres said growing demands from citizens, particularly young people, have shown there is widespread desire for climate action.
“What is still lacking is political will,” he said.
“Political will to put a price on carbon. Political will to stop subsidies on fossil fuels. Political will to stop building coal power plants from 2020 onwards. Political will to shift taxation from income to carbon. Taxing pollution instead of people.”
Guterres noted that some 70 countries — many of them among the most vulnerable to climate change — have pledged to stop emitting more greenhouse gases by 2050.
“But we also see clearly that the world’s largest emitters are not pulling their weight. And without them, our goal is unreachable,” he said.
The UN chief said he hoped the meeting in Madrid would see governments make more ambitious pledges ahead of a deadline to do so next year.
Guterres also announced that outgoing Bank of England governor Mark Carney will become his new special envoy on “climate action and climate finance” from next year.