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

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

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

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

This article considers how such a grassroots movement should function.


António Guterres has identified three problems in the current decision making, namely dishonesty, ineffective action, and decision makers being unaccountable. So to counter these, some key principles are

A movement rather than a single organisation

António Guterres is advocating a movement rather than a single organisation. The implication is a loose network of groups and individuals collaborating with each other.


It is hard to see how a movement that does not tell the truth will be able to achieve effective action. As well as deliberately not telling the truth (the "lying" that Guterres warns 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 be successful.

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

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

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


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

First published: 31 Aug 2022
Last updated: 15 Dec 2022