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24 September 2020

Continuing Current Trends Will Lead to Unimaginable Suffering Worldwide, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Round Table on Climate Ambition

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks as delivered to the High-Level Round Table on Climate Ambition, held today:

The world has a high fever and is burning up.  Climate disruption is daily news — from devastating wildfires to record floods.  The damage to people and the environment is immense and growing.  The recent United in Science report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is unequivocal.  The past decade was the hottest on record.  And concentrations of greenhouse gases have continued to rise.

Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and forest fires reached an all‑time high in 2019 and are 62 per cent higher than in 1990.  We must urgently reverse course.  That is why I am asking all leaders — Governments, businesses, financiers, civil society and youth — to act on three urgent priorities, beginning today.

First, we need sustainable COVID-19 recovery plans that tackle climate change.  Second, we need to protect our economies and societies by acting in line with what science tells us.  Third, we must prioritize the most vulnerable people and communities.

Let me go into each in more detail.  First, the COVID-19 response.  As we work to recover from the pandemic, we must act on the following principles:  invest in green and decent jobs; do not bail out polluting industries, especially coal; end fossil fuel subsidies and put a price on carbon; take climate risks into account in all financial and policy decisions; work together; and most important, leave no one behind.

All COVID-19 recovery packages need to accelerate the decarbonization of the global economy.  Any plan that supports economically costly and polluting coal or fossil fuel industries cannot be called “recovery”.  Plans, policies and portfolios must demonstrate that they are consistent with the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

I urge all development finance institutions to halt coal finance and shift their investments to renewable energy and efficiency.  Transitioning to renewable energy for our electricity will yield three times as many jobs as fossil fuels.  And the possibilities of a sustainable blue economy are still untapped.  We need more such efforts.

My second point is that all our efforts must be guided by science.  This means at least a 45 per cent reduction in global greenhouse‑gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2030, and net‑zero emissions before 2050 to meet the 1.5°C goal.  This starts with ambitious and concrete climate plans — the nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies that all Governments must prepare as early as possible and well before COP26.

I was encouraged by the recent announcements from by the European Union and China.  I now count on them and other main emitters to present the concrete plans and policies that will get all of us to reach carbon neutrality globally by 2050.

A year ago, at the Climate Action Summit, leaders from central and local governments, civil society, banks and businesses banded together to spearhead real action towards a resilient net-zero carbon economy by 2050.  Industry leaders pledged the decarbonization of shipping, aluminium, cement, steel and transportation.  Finance leaders moved to incorporate climate risks and opportunities into their decision-making.

Members of the Net‑Zero Asset Owner Alliance, now with 29 members and almost $5 trillion in assets, and the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, are now ready to invest trillions in a decarbonized economy.  Public development banks and multilateral developments banks now need clear mandates from their boards to do the same.

The fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, on 12 December, which will gather leaders from Governments, business and civil society, will be an important moment to continue raising climate ambition.  I look forward to working closely on this event with the leaders of Chile, United Kingdom, France and others to deliver increased ambition.  We will ask them to act on their commitments and deliver ambitious climate plans and actions.

My third and final request is that all these solutions prioritize the most vulnerable nations and communities.  This will entail just transition policies, international cooperation and solidarity.

However, resilience and adaptation action do not get the funding they need.  I ask developed countries to deliver this year on their commitment to provide and mobilize $100 billion a year for mitigation, adaptation and resilience in developing countries.  Governments must also remove expensive fossil fuel subsidies and take that money to invest in new jobs for the poorest communities.  This will include job and skills training for people and tax incentives for businesses.

We have champions and solutions all around us, in every city, corporation and country.  But, the climate emergency is fully upon us and we have no time to waste.  The answer to our existential crisis is swift, decisive, scaled-up action and solidarity among nations.

If we continue on our current path, the scale of suffering around the world due to climate disruption will go beyond all our imaginations.  So, let us commit today, now, to sweeping climate action that can lay the foundations for a world of health, security and prosperity for all.

For information media. Not an official record.