Calling Climate Change Direct Threat, Multiplier of Many Others at General Assembly Event, Secretary-General Stresses Need for Urgent, Decisive Action

SG/SM/18470-GA/11899-ENV/DEV/1778
23 March 2017

Calling Climate Change Direct Threat, Multiplier of Many Others at General Assembly Event, Secretary-General Stresses Need for Urgent, Decisive Action

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the high-level event on “Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda”, in New York today:

I am pleased to speak at this important meeting, and I thank the President of the General Assembly for convening it.

I have two simple messages today.  First, climate change is an unprecedented and growing threat — to peace and prosperity and the same in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals.  Second, addressing climate change is a massive opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

First, let me briefly outline the threat.  Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide continue to rise.  They are now topping the critical threshold of 400 parts per million.  Last year was once again the hottest on record.  The past decade has also been the hottest on record.  Sea ice is at a historic low; sea levels at a historic high.  This trend is indisputable.  There is no longer any doubt.  Human activity is causing dangerous global warming.

This is not a question of opinion.  Scientists around the world have been sounding the alarm for years.  Their work has been reviewed and endorsed by all the world’s Governments through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  We are dealing with scientific facts, not politics.  And the facts are clear.  Climate change is a direct threat in itself, and a multiplier of many other threats.

We face serious risks across the whole of the 2030 Agenda.  Food security is under threat around the world due to more droughts.  With food insecurity, we must add economic insecurity as scarcities of staple crops cause price surges.  Water insecurity is also growing around the world.  One third of the world’s population already lives in countries experiencing water stress.  As water gets more scarce, it threatens to become a catalyst for conflict.

Climate change is a menace to livelihoods, to property, and to business, not least insurance companies.  Wildfires are becoming more common.  So too are floods and other extreme weather events.  Sea level rise threatens the existence of low-lying nations and cities, from Miami to Mumbai.  The seas are also being affected by acidification and coral bleaching, threatening the whole marine food chain.

All these risks mean poverty will worsen and people will be forced to move from degraded lands to cities and other nations.  That is why military minds around the world take climate change very seriously indeed as a threat multiplier with direct consequences for peace and security.  So when we see a threat, what should we do?  It is very clear that we should act.

Action has been slow coming, but just over a year ago, in Paris, the world acted decisively.  The Paris Agreement on climate change is unique in its universality.  Every single Government signed it.  After it was adopted in December 2015, the Agreement entered into force in less than a year.  To date more than 130 parties have ratified it, and the numbers are growing monthly.  The United Nations is committed to helping all Member States to implement the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda.

The countries that supported the Paris Agreement are the same that adopted the Sustainable Development Goals — they comprise all United Nations Member States.  And the reason for this consensus is clear: all nations recognize that implementing the 2030 Agenda goes hand-in-glove with limiting global temperature rise and increasing climate resilience.

Every month, ever more countries are transforming their pledges into national climate action plans.  Cities and businesses are also taking a lead.  And why?  They not only recognize the threat, they also see the clear benefits of working to limit global temperature rise.  And they are evidence that, even if some national Governments backtrack on commitments, the combined efforts of sub-national authorities, business and civil society will create an unstoppable momentum.  They know that climate action is not only the right thing to do, it is good for business and the bottom line.  Not only is action now far cheaper than the cost of inaction, it can unlock vast potential economic growth in all regions and for all people.

And this is my second point.  Tackling climate change is a tremendous opportunity.  That is why we see almost daily announcements being made by countries, ranging from renewable energy projects to climate-related laws designed to keep temperature rise well below 2° and as close to 1.5° as possible.  And that will only be achieved by massive action.

Earlier this month, Singapore announced plans to introduce a carbon tax in 2019 to cut emissions and spur clean technology and innovation.  And, while the G‑20 (Group of 20) finance ministers recently omitted to mention climate change, I understand that carbon pricing will be a key part of the G-20 Summit in Germany in a few months’ time.

In March we learned that solar power grew 50 per cent in 2016, with China and the United States in the lead.  Globally, investment has grown by a factor of six in a decade to almost $300 billion.  The acceleration has been particularly striking in emerging economies.  Around the world, over half of new power-generation capacity now comes from renewables.  In Europe, the figure is more than 90 per cent.  In the United States and China, new renewable energy jobs now outstrip those created in the oil and gas industries.  Globally, over 8 million people work in the renewables sector.

This year, Saudi Arabia announced plans to install 700 megawatts of solar and wind power.  The Asian Development Bank has signed a new $109 million financing package for geothermal power generation in western Indonesia supported by Japan.  And industry experts predict India’s solar capacity will double in 2017 to 18 gigawatts.

So the trend is clear, the world is moving towards a green economy.  Governments and business increasingly understand that there is no trade-off between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.  We can have both.  Green business is good business.

Renewables are one example.  Energy efficiency is another.  The International Energy Agency has identified that investing in energy efficiency could boost cumulative economic global output by $18 trillion.  This is more than the total outputs of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined.  As we work towards Sustainable Development Goal 7 — to provide clean, affordable and efficient energy for all — it is clear that the world will need to invest massively.  Estimates predict future spending on energy infrastructure alone will total some $37 trillion dollars.

So, given the facts about youth unemployment, air pollution and climate change, surely it is common sense to put that money where it will create the most jobs, deliver the biggest health-care savings and have the most impact on global warming.  In other words, it makes sense to invest in combating climate change for a sustainable future.

If we want to protect forests and life on land, safeguard our oceans, create massive economic opportunities, prevent even more massive losses and improve the health and well-being of people and the planet, we have one simple option staring us in the face.  Climate action is a necessity.  It is also a clear opportunity to advance all our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

How we go about it can be the subject of scientific and political debate.  But there is no question that we must act, urgently and decisively, now.  That was the verdict of all the world’s Governments in Paris in December 2015.  And it remains the only viable way to safeguard peace, prosperity and a sustainable future.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.