17 September 2019

Stakes to Replace Coal with Clean Energy ‘Much Too High to Be Politically’ Safe, Deputy Secretary-General Warns at Press Briefing Ahead of Climate Action Summit

Following are UN Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohamed’s opening remarks at the press briefing ahead of the 2019 Climate Summit, in New York today:

We are just six days now away from the Climate Action Summit that kicks off a week of critical meetings for people, for planet, for prosperity, and, most importantly, for peace.

So let’s start:  Right at the moment we are a very long way from where we need to be on climate action that’s very clear on the broader transformation that’s required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Every day we are seeing climate emergencies get worse.  We are also seeing global hunger on the rise, entrenched inequalities, and massive youth unemployment.

So the five summits that we will have at the United Nations next week — what we are trying to say is very simple:  It’s time to ratchet up the action that we need to have at the country level.

People, industries, and Governments are moving.  They’ve been engaging over the last four years and for that, we know that we are on track.  But we do need to kick that movement into a much higher gear if we are to reach the goals that are being outlined by science, in the case of climate, and of course by the data that really shows how much we have to do on poverty and the other goals of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].

The Climate Action Summit is where the ideas will become concrete plans; we have had many of those over the past year.  This will boost climate action at the country level, but it will only work if everyone gets on board.  We need Governments, we need businesses, people to join us everywhere on the initiatives so that we have impact at the scale that we need moving beyond the pilots, and this is going to be crucial.

The Summit we see is a slingshot to 2020, when the COP [Conference of Parties] will in fact first take the targets that have been agreed to ramp up our national action plans for climate action on the Paris Agreement.

Today what I’d like to do is to give an overview of the types of initiatives you can expect.

To mention a few, the Summit will present practical and new measures to, one:  speed up the transition from coal to clean energy, and to cut the pollution that is harming our health.  The second: protect nature,  but also unlock the potential of nature to deliver on climate solutions; third:  create cleaner, greener ways to work and to move; speed up the transition in key sectors from grey to green economies; safeguard people from the impacts of climate change already being felt right now; and help make sure that we leave no one behind — the transition must be ramped up now, and it must be fair to include everyone.

When the Secretary-General announced the Summit, he said that only the boldest and most transformative actions would make the stage of the General Assembly.  There’s a huge number of excellent ideas that are being proposed that would be announced throughout the weekend starting from the Youth Summit on Saturday.  Every bit of warming matters, so every bit of climate action is key.

The Secretary-General has also said that only those countries that bring the boldest, courageous action and ambition will find a place on the stage on Monday.  That’s been tough because we know that in a different context, there are many, many challenges; it is complex.

So we will see on Monday who is stepping up.  We will see what climate leadership looks like.  Importantly, the Summit will show the progress so far towards a carbon-neutral future.

On the topic of leadership, let me say a few words about coal.  We know that the transition off coal is not a one-size-fits-all.  It is complex.  In many countries, renewables are already cheaper than coal, and the transition is well under way.  In other countries, the transition needs more support, and, in particular, funding options for renewables.

It is not enough that we stop funding coal and funding must be actively moved towards making renewables possible, so there is a tension there that we need to pay specific attention to.

We are, however, realistic.  No one can click their fingers and create a renewable grid overnight, particularly in a developing country that has so many competing demands.  But we are also determined.  There are over 100 coal plants in the pipeline today, and emissions are still rising. 

So let’s be clear that the pathway is a serious threat to human survival, the pathway that we follow now.  It’s why the Secretary-General has been so blunt in his calls for no new coal plants from 2020 onwards.  The stakes are much too high for us to be politically safe here, and they are certainly too high to give up because the road ahead is quite long.

Before handing over to our Special Envoy, Luis Alfonso [de Alba], let me make four quick points on the other summits that are taking place.  I think it is really important that this year actually frames some of the key issues and it is the first time that we will be taking stock of the Sustainable Development Goals, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The centrality of the 2030 Agenda will be discussed this week.  It is the common thread across all of the five summits in fact, including in the debates that we will have.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Governments and partners will identify what it will take to end poverty by 2030 and to transition to inclusive economies that deliver for that, so taking stock of the Sustainable Development Goals.

We will also look at specific aspects of the 2030 Agenda through the meetings on universal health coverage, financing for development, and the situation of small island developing States — those that are on the front line of the climate emergency.

Second, a key message you will hear again and again is that we need to get more resources flowing to support sustainable development.  It does mean, amongst other things, clamping down on illicit flows; reshaping the global financial system; and creating better environments to attract investments for sustainable development.

Third, there will be a major focus on inclusion, on reaching the marginalized and those left behind.  And here again, there will be a focus on those who stand to lose the most from climate change; those who are living in poverty; those who are denied access to basic services; those who are discriminated against; and those who are simply just not benefiting from globalization.

Finally, over the course of the week, you will also hear a lot about the Decade of Action for Delivery, and that’s delivery on the whole 2030 Agenda.  We are talking about here in the final decade and the achievement that we need to see on the Sustainable Development Goals.  It is a make or break for that decade.

The objective of the week is to further extend to the ranks of the global movement for sustainable development and to engage the world’s young people and to better direct that movement to actions that will have the greatest impact, again, at the country level.

If we do this, over the next 10 years, we can achieve the Goals; we can avert the worst impacts of climate change; and transition to societies and economies that deliver for people and planet alike.

It is now my handover to our Special Envoy, Luis.

For information media. Not an official record.