Following are UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks to the R20 Austrian World Summit, in Vienna today:
I am very pleased and very honoured to be with all of you today. I thank the Government of Austria and the R20 for promoting the low‑carbon infrastructure we need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and to implement the Paris Agreement and with enhanced ambition as the targets that were fixed in Paris, we all know, will not be enough. We need to have an increased ambition in that implementation. This is a matter of the utmost priority.
Every day, I am faced with the challenges of our troubled and complex world. But none of them loom so large as climate change. If we fail to meet the challenge, all our other challenges will just become greater and threaten to swallow us. Climate change is, quite simply, an existential threat for most life on the planet — including, and especially, the life of humankind. That is why we must use all our resources to build a sense of urgency. We must act with common purpose to raise ambition while we still have time to limit temperature rise to well below 2°C, and as close to 1.5°C as possible. For that, we need leadership and innovation — the focus of this Summit. Both are essential for climate action.
Today, I want to focus on solutions. We do need a new energy revolution. The stone age did not end because we ran out of stones. We do not need to wait for coal and oil to run out to end the age of fossil fuels. A great many solutions already exist or are in the pipeline. In the past decade, prices for renewables have plummeted and investments are on the rise. Today, a fifth of the world’s electricity is produced by renewable energy. We must build on this.
There are plenty of examples to inspire us. Morocco is building a solar farm the size of Paris that will power over a million homes by 2020. Last July, China surpassed its 2020 goal of 105 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity. A decade ago it had a mere 100 megawatts. That’s more than a thousandfold increase in ten years, and represents nearly one third of global installed capacity. In France, the Government has announced a bill to end the search for and production of hydrocarbons. In the United States, renewables are set to provide 69 per cent of new capacity by 2021, as dozens of coal plants are retired. Just last week, Allianz, a leading insurer, announced it would refuse to cover coal‑fired power plants and coal mines with immediate effect and rid itself of all coal risks.
The world is seeing a ground‑swell of climate action. It is clear that clean energy makes climate sense. But it also makes economic sense. Today it is the cheapest energy. And it will deliver significant health benefits.
Air pollution affects nearly all of us, regardless of borders. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas are exposed to poor — and dangerous — air quality. In China, it is estimated that fewer deaths from improved air quality could lead to savings of nearly $340 billion by 2030 — four times the cost of meeting China's climate goals. This, surely, is the definition of win‑win‑win.
Investments in clean, green infrastructure need to be scaled up globally. For that, we need leadership from the finance and investment community and by local, regional and national governments who will decide on major infrastructure plans over the coming years. I encourage private sector leaders here today to announce new sources of financing for clean energy projects. The International Energy Agency estimates that investment in renewable electricity last year was $242 billion. That is more than half of what was invested in new fossil fuel development. That figure is promising, but remains insufficient. For a full‑scale transition to clean energy, we must see billions invested by 2020.
I also encourage you to disclose your climate risk, divest from fossil fuels and forge partnerships that will invest in low‑emissions resilient infrastructure. We need to do this from the biggest cities to the smallest towns. The opportunities are tremendous. Some 75 per cent of the infrastructure needed by 2050 still remains to be built. How this is done will either lock us in to a high emission future or steer us towards truly sustainable low-emissions development. There is only one rational choice. Let us also encourage innovative solutions to localize climate finance. We can take inspiration from Toronto and Cape Town, which have launched their own green bonds.
I also look forward to the outcome of today’s discussions on a subnational climate finance facility for sub‑Saharan Africa. I applaud this Summit’s emphasis on city and subnational action. We need financing to reach the people and places that need it most. Mobilizing and equipping local governments with the capacity and financing to accelerate climate action is necessary if we are to bend the emissions curve.
Despite inspiring climate action in so many places, climate change continues to move faster than we are. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says: “The more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” But it does not have to be that way. The economics of solar and wind are on our side. Cutting edge technologies, such as electric vehicles, or energy from algae, promise a new era of clean air and climate action. New awareness is growing and new partnerships are being formed.
Let us build on this momentum. Next year, as it was said, I am convening a climate summit to galvanize greater climate ambition. I count on you to take ambition to new heights today and pave the way for more leadership and innovative action. Let’s join a race to the top, a race where there are only winners.