When Diplomats Must Be Undiplomatic

Yesterday I posted about one of the easier topics among the many options I have to post about every day. Today, a topic increasingly frequent in my posts, but definitely not an easy one. So I look to one person to summarize our week-to-week progress or lack of it. As always, I recommend signing up for his newsletter:

The World’s Top Diplomat Has Had It Up to Here

The Secretary General of the UN models how to think about climate change

I can remember when some of us organized what may have been the planet’s first truly huge climate march, with 400,000 people descending on New York in 2014. Then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came to walk with us for a few blocks, and it was considered remarkable: the world’s top diplomat had previously been too diplomatic to join in protests challenging the policies of his member nations.

But as the climate crisis has deepened, the job of being spokesperson for the whole planet seems to be radicalizing its occupant. Current UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has become as outspoken as Greta Thunberg in his denunciation of the countries and companies that are wrecking the planet. A couple of weeks ago, speaking at a conference sponsored by the Economist magazine, he accused the world of “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe… If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be catastrophe.”

But he grew far angrier this week, in remarks that accompanied the release of the new IPCC climate report. Here’s a small sampling:

“High‑emitting Governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye, they are adding fuel to the flames. They are choking our planet, based on their vested interests and historic investments in fossil fuels, when cheaper, renewable solutions provide green jobs, energy security and greater price stability.”


 Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals.  But, the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.

And, perhaps most importantly of all:

Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.  Such investments will soon be stranded assets — a blot on the landscape and a blight on investment portfolios

These are the howls of a man who is charged—more than anyone else in the world—with representing the whole planet. The only other human with an audience and a mandate this global is probably Pope Francis—and he’s been just as scared and just as strong. It’s a poignant reminder of how different our politics would look, and our behavior would be, if we actually thought locally.

Instead, this week, nations forged ahead with business as usual—with precisely the moral and economic madness Guterres decried. Canada announced plans for a new oil mega-project off the Newfoundland coast; France’s Macron, on the edge of an election, continued his quiet support for a huge new African pipeline to be built by French oil giant Total; Australia approved what the invaluable analyst Ketan Joshi called “comfortably the most climate-damaging project” in its history, even as the Great Barrier Reef underwent yet another round of catastrophic bleaching. And in the US, awash in windfall profit Big Oil seemed to have persuaded the Biden administration that it could help Ukraine only by giving it license to pump yet more.

We’re at a breaking point. The IPCC report got too little press (please read Amy Westervelt’s deep dives into its fascinating contents) but it got far more than the thousand noble climate scientists who engaged in civil disobedience around the world this week, to almost no notice

Read the whole letter here.

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