United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers a lecture at an event entitled “A Conversation with Ban Ki-moon,” hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. Photo by: Eskinder Debebe / U.N.

Any nations withdrawing from the Paris agreement on climate change will “condemn future generations to untold suffering," according to outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ban, who will step down as head of the U.N. after 10 years at the end of this month, described climate change as the single most pressing danger facing the world and called last year’s Paris agreement his “greatest achievement” in office. The agreement, which was reached in December 2015 in Paris, outlines an action plan to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial times.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., Ban warned that backing out of the agreement now would have devastating consequences and said the international community is at a “critical juncture” when it comes to averting the threat of climate change.

“This is a rare and precious achievement we should guard and nurture; to jettison or damage it is to condemn future generations to untold suffering,” Ban said.

He praised country governments for supporting the agreement and said: “Governments understand that it is in their own national interest to act on climate change.”

Ban’s comments come amid fears that the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump will withdraw the U.S. from the climate change agreement. Furthermore, some experts fear Trump’s cabinet nominees signal a rise in influence from the fossil fuel industry. The U.S. is the second largest global emitter of carbon dioxide.

In a speech on energy in May this year, Trump said: “We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payment of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.” In 2012, he tweeted that climate change was a concept “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.”

However, the president-elect later backtracked and recently told the New York Times he has “an open mind” about the Paris climate agreement.

The Paris global agreement was officially signed by a “record number” of 175 countries, including the U.S., in just one day, and entered into force legally just seven months later — a record-breaking ratification process which demonstrates the commitment of national governments to the agreement, Ban said.

Experts say it would take four years for a Trump administration to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris treaty.  The new administration could, however, fail to take action to meet the country’s commitments under the agreement and refuse to support financing, emissions reductions, and policy commitments necessary to achieve the agreement’s goals.

The most recent climate negotiations took place in Marrakech, Morocco, in October of this year, where an estimated 25,000 people gathered to attend the 22nd Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate.

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About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.