– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

3 December 2018

Your Excellency, Mr. Andrzej Duda, President of the Republic of Poland,

Your Excellency, Mr. Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji,

Esteemed Secretary General, António Guterres,

Heads of State and Government,

Honorable Ministers,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to start by thanking President Duda and the wonderful people of Poland for hosting this Conference in this crucial moment in the history of humanity. Also, the Prime Minister of Fiji.

Katowice will be remembered this year as the place in which we took firm steps to save the future of our planet.

I address you as President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which is the body that is composed by the 193 States who integrate the United Nations Organization and is, therefore, the most democratic and representative organism for multilateralism.

Hence, I wish to express the full support of the General Assembly of the United Nations and the greatest success to Mr. Michał Kurtyka, as President of this Conference. His leadership will be fundamental for these negotiations to conclude successfully.

President Kurtyka, You have a professional and committed team in the Secretariat of the Convention, under the sound leadership of our dear friend and colleague Patricia Espinosa.

Furthermore, our Organization has a Secretary General who is an active militant of the environmental and climate cause: António Guterres. His invitation to the Climate Summit next September in New York could not be more opportune. This will allow maintaining international attention focused on the climate agenda.

And that is the reason why this year we have made climate change one of the priorities for the current Period of Sessions of the General Assembly and why I have summoned a high level meeting on March the 28th, 2019.


Perhaps one of the most important expressions of the validity and relevance of the UN is indeed climate action which, due to its nature and complexity, requires strong collective actions and global leadership.

Dear colleagues,

Humanity never before had been so close to widespread commotion due to the devastating effects of climate change. We can see these effects everyday in each of our countries, north and south. Climate change is undoubtedly one of the greatest obstacles in the fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda.

The effects of climate change do not differentiate poor, rich, powerful or weak countries, although its effects clearly have a much greater impact on the poor, on the most vulnerable. That is the importance of our shared, albeit different, responsibilities.

Mr. President, friends:

We now have sound scientific evidence of how the climate situation has worsened in the last few years and that the scenario after Paris has become even more alarming.

The question that we must ask ourselves is: if we have all scientific evidence, if we have been able to confirm, first hand, how the effects of climate change can destroy whole countries and leave thousands of people homeless and without livelihoods and we also have the knowledge and the technology to fight it and stop it, then: what prevents us from providing a final and effective response to the climate crisis?

What we undoubtedly need is audacity, creativity, collective action and a greater ambition. We cannot be content with just providing the same answers and expecting different results. We must act urgently and decisively. This is everyone’s task; it is a task for the leadership and the decisions of the heads of state and government that are here with us today and those who are not, a task for the teams of negotiators to reach a firm, ambitious and adequate agreement to revert the discouraging current trends. But it is also a task for civil society, the private sector, academics and researchers, for indigenous peoples, women and young people, citizens also have a part to play in this urgency to transform our production and consumer patterns.

The current climate crisis now gives us the opportunity to show the world that effective multilateralism and with results is not an option, it is a need for survival. Katowice and You, today, have that enormous responsibility.

Dear delegates,

I sat where you are now sitting, for many years. I remember the long nights seeking agreements and consensus since the very origin of the Convention, more than 20 years ago.

More recently, I remember the long days working on negotiations; the emotions, the frustrations, the sense of a duty fulfilled in Cancun, Johannesburg or Copenhagen; the great hope of Paris. The leadership of Fiji and Talanoa dialogue.

Clearly, we have come a long way and we have achieved many things, but we must rise to the challenge of new evidences and new threats.

Excellencies and friends,

I have two observations and one request for you before the negotiations start.

First, we need a final result in this Conference, the world is watching and it demands answers.

And rightly so.

Finalizing the Paris Agreement Work Programme is an absolute necessity. We cannot leave Katowice without an actionable, agile and ambitious plan that will allow implementing the corresponding commitments and that can bring about a greater ambition in all aspects of climate action.

We also need clear, predictable and adequate Means of Implementation for adaptation and mitigation actions.

I understand that there are still obstacles that we need to overcome – in climate financing, transparency and technology transfer – but I also know that our sense of duty to the principle of cooperation, established in the United Nations Charter, is strong enough and that multilateralism is the only possible way to achieve it.

The future of humanity depends of whether or not we have a clear, common roadmap that can be transformed into a work plan to fulfill the Paris Agreement and more. According to the latest report of the United Nations Environment Programme, we need to increase the level of ambition five more times in our current commitments to reduce emissions if we are to reach the goal of a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius increase.

Let Katowice be the symbol of audacity, courage and decision to do what is right in these moments of climate emergency. We must do what is right to build a safe and sustainable world for everyone today and for future generations.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly

My second observation is that we are at the crossroads of two possible futures:

In the first one, we continue to debate while the world becomes 3 degrees Celsius warmer than preindustrial levels.

We have already seen glimpses of these effects:

The economic losses caused by extreme climate conditions amounted up to more than 500 billion USD last year. Dominica alone lost the equivalent to 3 times its Gross Domestic Product in a matter of hours.

At the same time, migration due to climate factors has increased and 200 million people are at risk of losing their homes by 2050, 80% of which will be women.

Cape Town almost ran out of water last year and the shortage of housing, water and food is also looming over many other cities of the world.

As a result, every year there will be 26 million more people living in poverty due to extreme climate events.

As I mentioned before, we have the option to choose a second path.

A path in which we invest in having access to renewable and sustainable sources of energy for everyone; a path in which we eliminate the barriers to commerce, transfer and invest in low carbon technologies, in other words, a path for a rapid technological restructuring. A path in which climate financing for countries with different vulnerabilities is enough and predictable. 

In this scenario, millions of employments will be created and the living conditions of millions of people would improve.

For that purpose, we must guarantee the fulfillment of the commitment to mobilize 100 billion USD per year starting on 2020 and that it can be done in a predictable manner.

Imagine what this would mean to drive innovation and labor growth; the potential to bring justice to more than one thousand hundred million people that are currently living without electricity and the social and economic benefits of this action.

Truly, our world would never be the same.

Evidently, if we invest in a greener future we would have enormous economic, social and environmental benefits. For this to happen we need an effective framework to measure global progress and, at the same time, we need to measure the benefits. We are also gathered here today to build that Transparency Framework. There is truth in the phrase: “that which cannot be measured, cannot be managed.”

Dear friends, to conclude I would now like to make a request and an invitation. I know that the negotiations will be difficult, but I ask you to always keep in mind the people and the lives that depend on our decisions and our commitments. 

The peoples who we represent are awaiting results. International climate diplomacy is facing a true test of credibility and legitimacy in this COP.

I firmly believe in the need for multilateralism and I consider that the Paris Agreement is an undeniable proof of its power. However, its strength and effectiveness depend on our capability to implement it.

I am counting on Your political decision and commitment to conclude the Paris Agreement Work Programme.

Excellencies, colleagues and friends, I wish you the greatest success in your deliberations.

Let Katowice be the symbol of audacity, courage and decision to do what is right in these moments of climate emergency. We must do what is right to build a safe and sustainable world for everyone today and for future generations.

Thank you.