Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at a press conference to launch the “United in Science 2020” climate report, with World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, held in New York today:
Thank you very much. Ladies and Gentlemen of the media,
I am pleased to join Professor [Petteri] Taalas of the World Meteorological Organization for this launch of “United in Science 2020”, a multi-agency compilation of the latest climate science.
Professor Taalas will walk through some of the details, but let me say a few words from the outset. This report is a catalogue of a climate crisis that is worsening by the hour. Yes, economies slowed down because of COVID-19, but the heating of our planet has not let up.
As the report shows, greenhouse‑gas concentrations reached new record highs in 2020. The last time levels were this high was between 2.6 and 5.3 million years ago, in the Pliocene era when there were trees at the South Pole and sea levels were some 20 metres higher.
The five-year period since the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change will be the hottest on human record — with average global temperatures of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. The report also rings the alarm that there is a significant and growing chance of temporarily reaching the 1.5°C threshold in the coming five years. Over the same period, the extent of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice has been below average and sea‑level rise has been accelerating due to melting land-based ice.
The latest data for Greenland alone shows an average loss of ice mass of 278 billion tons a year — more than 110 million Olympic‑sized swimming pools. And this is Greenland alone ‑ 110 million Olympic sized swimming pools have lost ice in Greenland alone. Let’s not forget that there is Antarctica. Let’s not forget that there are glaciers all over the world. Over the next five years, the Arctic is predicted to continue warming at over twice the overall global rate.
Our world remains off track — far off track — to meet the objective of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. If things would remain as they are, we would go up 3°C to 5°C above the pre-industrial level.
As this report emphasizes, short-term lockdowns are no substitute for the sustained climate action we need to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The consequences of our failure to get to grips with the climate emergency are everywhere.
Record heatwaves. Devastating wildfires, floods and droughts. And these challenges are only going to get worse. As this report emphasizes, because of past emissions, we are locked into further heating.
There is no time to delay if we are to slow the trend and limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. Climate action is the only way to ensure a liveable planet for this and future generations.
Whether we are tackling a pandemic or the climate crisis, it is clear that we need science, solidarity and decisive solutions. We have a choice: business as usual, leading to further calamity; or we can use the recovery from COVID-19 to provide a real opportunity to put the world on a sustainable path.
That is why I have called for six climate-related actions to shape the recovery. First, as we spend huge amounts of money to recover from the coronavirus, we must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition. Second, where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it needs to be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth. Third, fiscal firepower must drive a shift from the grey to the green economy and make societies and people more resilient.
Fourth, public funds should be used to invest in the future, not the past, and flow to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate. And so, fossil fuel subsidies must end, polluters must pay for their pollution and no new coal power plants should be built. It is already cheaper to build new renewable energy capacity than to continue operating 39 per cent of the world’s existing coal capacity. This share of uncompetitive coal power plants will rapidly increase to 60 per cent in 2022. The coal business is going up in smoke.
Fifth, climate risks and opportunities must be incorporated into the financial system, as well as all aspects of public policymaking and infrastructure. And lastly, we need to work together as an international community. These six principles constitute an important guide to recovering better together.
As we work to tackle both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, I urge leaders to heed the facts in this report, unite behind the science and take urgent climate action. And I call on Governments to prepare new and ambitious national climate plans, the nationally determined contributions, in advance of COP26 [twenty‑sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change]. That is how we will build a safer, more sustainable future. I now hand over to Professor Taalas to take us through the findings of the report.
[Professor Taalas’ remarks.]
Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General: Thank you very much. We’ll… the Secretary‑General has time for a few questions. We’ll go first to the room here. Frank Ucciardo, TRT News. Go ahead, Frank, please use your mic.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Hello. Secretary‑General, on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, thank you for having this press conference. It’s good to see you here and in good health. Can I do that? Is that okay with you? Okay. I just wasn’t quite sure if we had permission to do that. To start again, welcome. On behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, thank you for being here. We appreciate you doing this press conference. As long as you have been in office, you have been a champion in sounding the alarm for climate change. And I can see, over the years and over the basic climate change conferences, that it really must have been pretty frustrating at times and continues to be so, because you have countries like the United States and China that have not exactly been very aggressive in cutting back their emissions. What can you do to tackle this issue in the future?
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, it’s important to notice that we have already 120 countries that have accepted carbon neutrality in 2050 and are establishing the plans to implement it. And that represents 25 per cent of the emissions. So, the big question, as you mention, are the big emitters, and the big emitters are the United States, China, the European Union, Japan, Russia, India. And I’ve been very actively engaged, both with the Governments and the civil societies. I made recently conferences to a Chinese university, to an Indian university, aiming at convincing the big emitters, all of them, that it is absolutely crucial for them to commit to carbon neutrality in 2050 and to commit to a reduction of the emissions up to 2030 of 45 per cent. Without the big emitters, all the efforts that are made will not be enough.
It’s important to notice that there has been a very important movement in the private sector — asset managers, banks, important multinational corporations — that there is a huge movement in the civil society — in cities, in states — also a very strong commitment of the use. So, all these reasons make me believe that the pressure of the Governments of big emitters will sooner or later produce results and that it will be possible to have a global commitment and the nationally determined contributions change that will be presented up to the COP26 in Glasgow are the real opportunity to do so. I still hope that the global emitters will also commit to carbon neutrality in 2050.
Spokesman: Thank you very much. Next question will go online to Edie Lederer, Associated Press. Edie?
Question: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary‑General. Given the record wildfires in California right now, the record‑breaking Atlantic hurricane season, 130°F temperature at Death Valley last month, and as you said, Arctic sea ice at a near‑record low and Siberia’s record heat and fires earlier this summer, what does that tell us about climate change, and what message is earth telling us? And Professor Taalas, how much worse will it get? Thank you.
Secretary-General: Well, the spread of wildfires and last year, it was absolutely devastating, both in the Arctic, in the Amazon basin and several areas of the world, Africa inclusive. The spread of wildfires has a double impact. On the one hand, it is a result largely… its acceleration is a result of climate change, but on the other hand, it contributes to climate change as it releases CO2 and it destroys forests that is an absolutely essential instrument to sink CO2. So, the link between climate change and the destruction of forests is a devastating one, and we need quickly to reverse this trend and to create a virtuous circle and not a vicious circle. And this is one reason more for us to feel a very strong sense of urgency.
Spokesman: Thank you. Professor Taalas, if you want to answer that, as well.
WMO Secretary-General: Yeah. So, this… the fact that we have seen growing amount of temperatures, growing amount of heatwaves and also drought events related to the heatwaves that has been causing these forest fires, and we have seen record‑breaking forest fires in Australia last year, recently California and this year and also last year in eastern Siberia. And as António Guterres said, they also contributed to the emissions of carbon to the atmosphere. The main forest problem that we have worldwide is related to deforestation in the rainforest areas, like in Brazil and Indonesia. That’s the number one problem, but these forest fires are number two problem, in that sense. And then you were asking whether… what will happen in the future. It’s known that this new trend in climate will continue for the coming decades, and if we are successful with the mitigation reports, we could phase out this negative trend in 2060s. And the sea‑level rise which we have, it has been also been accelerating. That will continue until next century, unfortunately.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Thank you very much. Valeria Robecco, ANSA Italian News Agency. Valeria?
Correspondent: Yes. Thank you. Can you hear me?
Question: Okay. Good. Thank you. So, thank you, first of all, for this press conference, on behalf of UNCA remotely. So, my question is, Italy’s Enel Group announced yesterday that all of its coal production plants will close by 2025. Do… Mr. Secretary‑General, do you think that by the year time frame can be a target achievable by all the major electricity‑producing companies?
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, it’s good to notice that coal-fired power production is, indeed, decreasing in several parts of the world, including, by the way, here in the United States. But, there are very strong commitments in Europe about it. Unfortunately, we still have a large number of new coal power plants foreseen in relation to the future, namely, in Asia and in Africa. And one of my appeals to countries, namely, those countries that export and finance coal power plants, is exactly to divert these efforts into an effort of supporting the developing world in relation to renewables, as renewables are now clearly more profitable, more efficient and more [effective for] labour creation than coal power plants. And this is the reason why I’ve been asking, especially the big exporters of coal power plants and financiers, namely, Japan, China and Korea, to reduce these operations. And I’m encouraged that this will be the case, and I’m encouraged that several countries that have coal power plants in their plans now looking into the recovery… post‑COVID recovery will shift resources into renewables.
Spokesman: Thank you. Sir, I think the Secretary‑General needs to…
Secretary-General: Yes, I was saying… and I said in my intervention, coal is going up in smoke.
Spokesman: Thank you. Thank you, Secretary‑General. I know you have to go to another appointment. We will continue with Professor Taalas.