Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the opening of the twenty-fourth Conference of Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, today:
Welcome to COP24. I thank President [Andrzej] Duda, Minister [Henryk] Kowalczyk and COP President-designate Mijal Kurtyka for their warm welcome.
We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change. Climate change is running faster than we are and we must catch up sooner rather than later before it is too late. For many people, regions, even countries, this is already a matter of life and death.
This meeting is the most important gathering on climate change since the Paris Agreement was signed. It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation. Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption. Nor are we doing enough to capitalize on the enormous social, economic and environmental opportunities of climate action.
And so, I want to deliver four simple messages. First, science demands a significantly more ambitious response. Second, the Paris Agreement provides the framework for action, so we must operationalize it. Third, we have a collective responsibility to invest in averting global climate chaos, to consolidate the financial commitments made in Paris and to assist the most vulnerable communities and nations. Fourth, climate action offers a compelling path to transform our world for the better.
Let me turn first to science. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years. The concentration of carbon dioxide is the highest it has been in 3 million years. Emissions are now growing again. The recent special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that warming could reach 1.5 degrees [Celsius] as soon as 2030, with devastating impacts. The latest United Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report tells us that the current Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement will lead to global warming of about 3 degrees [Celsius] by the end of the century. Furthermore, the majority of countries most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions are behind in their efforts to meet their Paris pledges.
So, it is plain we are way off course. We need more action and more ambition. We absolutely have to close this emissions gap. If we fail, the Arctic and Antarctic will continue to melt, corals will bleach and then die, the oceans will rise, more people will die from air pollution, water scarcity will plague a significant proportion of humanity, and the cost of disasters will skyrocket. Last year I visited Barbuda and Dominica, which were devastated by hurricanes. The destruction and suffering I saw was heart-breaking. That story is repeated almost daily somewhere in the world.
These emergencies are preventable. Emissions must decline by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and be net zero by 2050. Renewable energy will need to supply half to two thirds of the world’s primary energy by 2050 with a corresponding reduction in fossil fuels. In short, we need a complete transformation of our global energy economy, as well as how we manage land and forest resources. We need to embrace low-carbon, climate-resilient sustainable development. I am hopeful that the Talanoa Dialogue will provide a very strong impulse for increased ambition in the commitments for climate action.
This brings me to my second point. The Paris Agreement provides a framework for the transformation we need. It is our job here in Katowice to finalize the Paris Agreement Work Programme ‑ the rule book for implementation. I remind all parties that this is a deadline you set for yourselves and it is vital you meet it. We need a unifying implementation vision that sets out clear rules, inspires action and promotes raised ambition, based on the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances. We have no time for limitless negotiations. A completed Work Programme will unleash the potential of the Paris Agreement. It will build trust and make clear that countries are serious about addressing climate change.
This brings me to my third point: the central importance of finance. We need concerted resource mobilization and investment to successfully combat climate change. We need transformative climate action in five key economic areas ‑ energy, cities, land use, water and industry. Some 75 per cent of the infrastructure needed by 2050 still remains to be built. How this is done will either lock us into a high-emissions future or steer us towards truly sustainable low-emissions development.
Governments and investors need to bet on the green economy, not the grey. That means embracing carbon pricing, eliminating harmful fossil fuel subsidies and investing in clean technologies. It also means providing a fair transition for those workers in traditional sectors that face disruption, including through retraining and social safety nets. We also have a collective responsibility to assist the most vulnerable communities and countries ‑ such as small island nations and the least developed countries ‑ by supporting adaptation and resilience.
Making clear progress to mobilize the pledged $100 billion a year will provide a much-needed positive political signal. I have appointed the President of France and the Prime Minister of Jamaica to lead the mobilization of the international community, both public and private, to reach that target in the context of preparations for the Climate Summit I have convened in September of next year. I also urge Member States to swiftly implement the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund. It is an investment in a safer, less costly future.
All too often, climate action is seen as a burden. My fourth point is this: decisive climate action today is our chance to right our ship and set a course for a better future for all. We have the knowledge. Many technological solutions are already viable and affordable. Cities, regions, civil society and the business community around the world are moving ahead. What we need is more political will and more far-sighted leadership. This is the challenge on which this generation’s leaders will be judged.
Climate action is not just the right thing to do – it makes social and economic sense. Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement would reduce air pollution, saving more than a million lives each year by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. According to the recent New Climate Economy report, ambitious climate action could yield 65 million jobs and a direct economic gain of $26 trillion compared to business as usual over the next 12 years. We are seeing early signs of this economic transformation, but we are nowhere near where we need to be.
The transition to a low-carbon economy needs political impetus from the highest levels. And it requires inclusivity because everyone is affected by climate change. That is the message of the Talanoa Dialogue. We need a full-scale mobilization of young people. And we need a global commitment to gender equality because women’s leadership is central to durable climate solutions. A successful conference here in Katowice can provide the catalyst.
There is now significant global momentum for climate action. It has galvanized private business and investors around the world, while cities and regional governments are also showing that ambitious climate action is possible and desirable. Let us build on this momentum. I am convening a Climate Summit in September next year to raise ambition and mobilize the necessary resources. But that ambition needs to begin here, right now, in Katowice, driven by Governments and leaders who understand that their legacies and the well-being of future generations are at stake. We cannot afford to fail in Katowice.
Some might say that it will be a difficult negotiation. I know it is not easy. It requires firm political will for compromise. But, for me, what is really difficult is to be a fisherman in Kiribati seeing his country at risk of disappearing or a farmer or herder in the Sahel losing livelihoods and losing peace or being a woman in Dominica or any other Caribbean nation enduring hurricane after hurricane, destroying everything in its path.
Climate change is the single most important issue we face. It affects all our plans for sustainable development and a safe, secure and prosperous world. So it is hard to comprehend why we are collectively still moving too slowly ‑ and even in the wrong direction. The IPCC’s Special Report tells us that we still have time to limit temperature rise. But that time is running out.
We achieved success in Paris because negotiators were working towards a common goal. I implore you to maintain the same spirit of urgent collaboration here in Katowice with a dynamic Polish leadership in the negotiations. Katowice must ensure that the bonds of trust established in Paris will endure. Incredible opportunity exists if we embrace a low-carbon future and unleash the power of the Paris Agreement. But we must start today building the tomorrow we want.
Let us rise to the challenge and finish the work the world demands of us. Thank you.