United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world is hurtling towards ecological destruction, sounding a bleak opening tone to the annual UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

Speaking a day after convening world leaders to ratchet up climate commitments, Guterres said on Tuesday that the “climate alarm bells” are “ringing at fever pitch”. Calling current global efforts insufficient, he forecast a “hellscape of temperature rises” if emissions aren’t cut more than currently planned.

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“We are weeks away from the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, but seemingly light years away from reaching our targets,” Guterres told world leaders at the hybrid event where leaders including US President Joe Biden and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are speaking in person but others will appear by video. “We must get serious. And we must act fast.”

There were also hints of optimism on the climate front. Speaking on the sidelines of an event on the subject at the UN on Monday, US climate envoy John Kerry expressed confidence that world leaders will meet a target of raising $100 billion in climate aid to developing nations before the UK hosts two weeks of climate talks – known as COP26 – in Glasgow, Scotland, beginning on October 31.

“I think we’re going to get it done by COP,” Kerry told reporters. “The US will do its part,” he said. “I’m not hoping. I’m telling you to stay tuned to the president’s speech.”

Guterres also decried the global vaccine inequity that has left rich countries with surplus doses and considering booster shots even as developing nations have barely started vaccinating their populations.

“This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity. We passed the science test. But we are getting an ‘F’ in Ethics,” the UN chief said.

Reviewing the mistrust and lack of unity that he says have undermined global efforts to address Covid-19 and climate, Guterres said, “Instead of the path of solidarity, we are on a dead end to destruction.” While millions around the world go hungry, Guterres said, they see “billionaires joyriding to space”.

‘Recipe for trouble’

The United Nations chief urged the United States and China to engage in dialogue, warning of an increasingly divided world. “I fear our world is creeping towards two different sets of economic, trade, financial and technology rules, two divergent approaches in the development of artificial intelligence – and ultimately two different military and geopolitical strategies,” Guterres said.

“This is a recipe for trouble. It would be far less predictable than the Cold War. To restore trust and inspire hope, we need cooperation,” he said.

“We need dialogue. We need understanding.”

The summit featured the first speech to the world body by US President Joe Biden, who has described a rising and authoritarian China as the paramount challenge of the 21st century.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is also set to address the United Nations but by video in light of Covid restrictions.

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