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SG/SM/20994
26 October 2021

Carbon-Burning Development Model ‘Death Sentence’ for People, Planet, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Meeting, Urging Bold Climate Action to Limit Global Temperature Rise

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the high‑level meeting on “Delivering Climate Action — for People, Planet and Prosperity”, in New York today: 

Mr. President of the General Assembly, thank you very for convening us and for your commitment and leadership mobilizing us all for climate action.  The United Nations and this Assembly were created precisely for the kind of challenge that brings us together today.

The climate crisis is a code red for humanity.  This Assembly — and Governments around the world — face a moment of truth.  In six days, world leaders will be put to the test at COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] in Glasgow.  Their actions — or inactions — will show their seriousness about addressing this planetary emergency.

The warning signs are hard to miss.  Pollution kills 9 million people every year.  Every day, dozens of species go extinct.  Scorching temperatures are turning farmlands into parched landscapes.  Cities and entire countries are watching sea-levels rise around them.  Increasing temperatures will make vast stretches of our planet unliveable by century’s end.

And last week, a new report from The Lancet described climate change as the “defining narrative of human health” in the years to come — a crisis defined by widespread hunger, respiratory illness, deadly disasters and infectious disease outbreaks that could be even worse than COVID-19.

Despite these alarm bells ringing at fever pitch, we see new evidence today in the Emissions Gap Report that Governments’ actions so far simply do not add up to what is so desperately needed.

We are still on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C.  A far cry from the 1.5°C target to which the world agreed under the Paris Agreement.  A target that science tells us is the only sustainable pathway for our world.  And one that is entirely achievable.  If we can reduce [global] emissions by 45 per cent compared to 2010 levels this decade.  If we can achieve global net‑zero by 2050.  And if world leaders arrive in Glasgow with bold, ambitious and verifiable 2030 targets, and new, concrete policies to reverse this disaster.

Group of 20 (G20) leaders — in particular — need to deliver.  The time has passed for diplomatic niceties.  If Governments — especially G20 Governments — do not stand up and lead this effort, we are headed for terrible human suffering.

But, all countries need to realize that the old, carbon-burning model of development is a death sentence for their economies and for our planet.  We need decarbonization now, across every sector in every country.  We need to shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy and tax pollution, not people.  We need to put a price on carbon and channel that back towards resilient infrastructures and jobs.  And we need to phase out coal — by 2030 in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and by 2040 in all other countries.

Governments are increasingly agreeing to stop financing coal — now private finance needs to do the same, urgently.  People rightly expect their Governments to lead.  But, we all have a responsibility to safeguard our collective future.  Businesses need to reduce their climate impact, and fully and credibly align their operations and financial flows to a net-zero future.  No more excuses.  No more greenwashing.

Investors — public and private alike — must do the same.  They should join front‑runners like the net-zero asset owners alliance, and the United Nations’ own Pension Fund, which met its 2021 carbon reduction investment objectives ahead of time and above its target, with a 32 per cent reduction this year.

Individuals in every society need to make better, more responsible choices — in what they eat, how they travel and what they purchase as consumers.  And young people — and climate activists — need to keep doing what they’re doing:  demanding action from their leaders.  Throughout, we need global solidarity to help all countries make this shift.  Developing countries are grappling with debt and liquidity crises.  They need support.

Public and multilateral development banks must significantly increase their climate portfolios and redouble their efforts to help countries transition to net‑zero, resilient economies.  And the developed world must urgently meet its commitment of at least $100 billion in annual climate finance for developing countries.  I repeat my call to donors and multilateral development banks to devote at least 50 per cent of their climate support towards adaptation and resilience in the developing world.

Over the last 76 years, this Assembly has gathered the world around crisis after crisis to build consensus for action.  But, rarely have we faced a crisis like this one.  A truly existential crisis that — if not addressed — threatens not only us, but succeeding generations.

There is one path forward.  A 1.5°C future is the only liveable future for humanity.  I urge leaders to get on with the job, before it’s too late.

For information media. Not an official record.