The UN Secretary-General's plea for "a grassroots movement that cannot be ignored"

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, warned in 2022 that climate change is an emergency situation, and spoke of the "need to create a grassroots movement that cannot be ignored."

This article summarises how such a grassroots movement should function in order to be effective.

At the launch of the latest IPCC report in April 2022, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) António Guterres said (see document 136)

This article summarises how such a grassroots movement should function in order to be effective.


The UN Secretary-General identified three problems in the current decision making:- dishonesty, ineffective action, and decision makers being unaccountable. So to counter these, some key components of a grassroots movement are
  1. accurate information
  2. advocating effective action consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C
  3. ensuring effective action is taken.

A movement rather than a single organisation
The UN Secretary-General is advocating a movement rather than a single organisation. The implication is a loose network of groups and individuals who are committed to the principles of good decision making and collaborating with each other.

1. Accurate information

It is hard to see how a movement that is not based on accurate information will be able to achieve effective action. As well as deliberately not telling the truth (the "lying" that Guterres has warned about), some people are inadvertently repeating fallacies. Others are watering down their statements in the hope of initiating some actions, which would then be accelerated once the full truth is communicated. This self-censoring does not seem to have been successful.

With so much inaccurate information being readily available, there is a need for a network of trusted sources (groups and individuals) that are committed to providing accurate information.

Consideration should be given to signing an oath to tell the truth or adopting a recognised code of practice.

An example of an oath is that of Scientists for Global Responsibility [1], which includes
  • explain honestly, clearly and without compromise, what scientific evidence tells us about the seriousness of the climate emergency.
  • not second-guess what might seem politically or economically pragmatic when describing the scale and timeframe of action needed to deliver the 1.5°C and 2°C commitments, specified in the Paris Climate Agreement. And, speak out about what is not compatible with the commitments, or is likely to undermine them.

An example of a recognised code of practice is the UK's Principles of Public Life (see document 41), which are

2. Advocating effective action

The movement needs to agree what the science says about the range of actions needed. In discussing actions, it should be borne in mind that scientific methods have been developed to give correct answers to complex questions (e.g. in engineering or medicine), so the same principles are applied in agreeing climate action. These principles include
There is much overlap between these principles and the UK's Principles of Public Life (see above).

The stance of the movement should be to explain what are the right policies if based on facts and fairness, rather than campaign for any particular outcome - i.e. as explainers rather than campaigners

3. Ensuring effective action is taken

Actions by those in positions of power need to be scrutinised, and any inconsistencies with the scientific consensus need to be highlighted and challenged.


[1]Scientists for Global Responsibility: Science oath for the climate

First published: 31 Aug 2022
Last updated: 11 Jan 2024