The United Nations is summoning an unusual “witness” to testify to the dangers of burning fossil fuels that stoke global warming: a dinosaur.
In a video released on social media for this year’s Cop26 UN climate change summit, beginning on Monday, a computer-generated dinosaur bursts into the UN’s famous general assembly hall in New York to tell world diplomats that “going extinct is a bad thing”.
“You’re headed for a climate disaster,” the dinosaur says. “And yet every year, governments spend hundreds of billions of public funds on fossil fuel subsidies. Imagine if we had spent hundreds of billions per year subsidising giant meteors.”
A new report by the UN Development Programme published at the same time says the world spends more than four times as much each year – about $423bn (£308) – on subsidising fossil fuels for consumers than on helping poor countries tackle global warming.
The figure does not include the indirect costs of burning oil, coal and gas, such as the harm fossil fuel emissions do to the environment and human health.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has repeatedly called for an end to subsidies on fossil fuels, something many governments are wary of because of fears that higher prices could spark social unrest.
Mr Guterres warned on Tuesday that the world is way off course from averting climate disaster, and countries’ new commitments to cutting greenhouse gas emissions “fall far short” of what is required to reach net zero by 2050.
“We know that humanity’s future depends on keeping global temperature increase to 1.5C by 2030,” he said, unveiling a UN report on the “emissions gap” between action needed to limit temperature rises to globally-agreed goals under the Paris Agreement and what countries have pledged.
“We also know that, so far, parties to the Paris Agreement are utterly failing to keep this target within reach.”
He warned: “The clock is ticking. The emissions gap is the result of a leadership gap.”
With just days to go before the critical Cop26 summit, the UN Environment Programme has found countries’ planned carbon emissions cuts take only a further 7.5 per cent off projected global emissions for 2030, while cuts of 55 per cent are needed to meet the 1.5C Paris goal.
The head of the UN Development Programme, Achim Steiner, said reforming the system of fossil fuel subsidies would not be easy and might look different in each country.
“But we also know that we must move away from these energy sources that are contributing to our planet’s decline,” he said. “Ending financial support for them in a way that is fair and equitable is a critical element of that transition.”