23 September 2019

Nature Striking Back with Fury, Secretary-General Tells Climate Action Summit, Calling ‘Apocalyptic’ Bahamas Destruction ‘the Future — if We Do Not Act Now’

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the 2019 Climate Action Summit, in New York today:

Nature is angry.  And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature.  Because nature always strikes back.  And around the world, nature is striking back with fury.

Consider the last few months.  July, the hottest month ever; June through August, the hottest summer in the Northern Hemisphere ever and the second hottest winter in the Southern Hemisphere ever; the years 2015 to 2019, the five hottest years on the books ever.

Our warming earth is issuing a chilling cry:  Stop.  If we don’t urgently change our ways of life, we jeopardize life itself.  Look around.  Seas are rising and oceans are acidifying.  Glaciers are melting and corals are bleaching.  Droughts are spreading and wildfires are burning.  Deserts are expanding and access to water is dwindling.  Heatwaves are scorching and natural disasters are multiplying.  Storms everywhere are more intense.  More frequent.  More deadly.

I have seen it with my own eyes, from Dominica to the Sahel to the South Pacific.  In May, I went to the island nation of Tuvalu, where I witnessed an entire country fighting for its very existence against the rising seas.  Two months ago, I visited Mozambique, which was pummelled by unprecedented back‑to‑back cyclones.  A few days ago, I was in the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian pounded the country for two unrelenting days.

The destruction was not simply appalling.  It was apocalyptic.  Make no mistake, when we see those images, we are not just seeing damage.  We are seeing the future — if we do not act now.  Someone asked me the other day, doesn’t all of this make you despair?  My answer was a clear and resounding “no”.  I am hopeful.  And I am hopeful because of you.  This is not a climate talk summit.  We have had enough talk.  This is not a climate negotiation summit because we don’t negotiate with nature.  This is a climate action summit.  From the beginning, I said the ticket to entry is not a beautiful speech, but concrete action.  And you are here with commitments.

Governments are here to show you are serious about enhancing nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement.  Cities and businesses are here showing what leadership looks like, investing in a green future.  Financial actors are here to scale up action and deploy resources in fundamentally new and meaningful ways.  And coalitions are here with partnerships and initiatives to move us closer to a resilient, carbon-neutral world by 2050.  I am very grateful to the leaders and members of the nine wide-ranging coalitions that worked with great creativity and passion so that we can all get the most out of this Summit.

And young people — above all, young people — are here providing solutions, insisting on accountability, demanding urgent action.  They are right.  My generation has failed in its responsibility to protect our planet.  That must change.  The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win.  The climate crisis is caused by us — and the solutions must come from us.

We have the tools:  technology is on our side; readily available technological substitutions already exist for more than 70 per cent of today's emissions; and we have the road map:  the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  And we have the imperative:  undeniable, irrefutable science.

The best science, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, tells us that any temperature rise above 1.5ºC will lead to major and irreversible damage to the ecosystems that support us.  But science also tells us it is not too late.  We can do it.  Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is still possible.  But, it will require fundamental transformations in all aspects of society — how we grow food, use land, fuel our transport and power our economies.  We need to link climate change to a new model of development — a fair globalization — with less suffering, more justice and harmony between people and planet.

There is a cost to everything.  But the biggest cost is doing nothing.  The biggest cost is subsidizing a dying fossil fuel industry, building more and more coal power plants and denying what is plain as day:  that we are in a deep climate hole and to get out, we must first stop digging.  After all, is it common sense to give trillions in hard-earned taxpayers’ money to the fossil fuel industry to boost hurricanes, spread tropical diseases and heighten conflict?  Is it common sense to build ever more coal plants that are choking our future?  Is it common sense to reward pollution that kills millions with dirty air and makes it dangerous for people in cities around the world to sometimes even venture out of their homes?

It is time to shift taxes from salaries to carbon, and to tax pollution, not people.  As the scientific community has told us again and again, we need to cut greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030; reach carbon neutrality by 2050; and limit temperature rise to 1.5ºC by the end of the century.  And we need to accelerate financial support.  The replenishment of the Green Climate Fund is crucial, as is fulfilling the commitment by developed countries to mobilize $100 billion a year from public and private sources by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

Even if we succeed in reducing emissions, many people are already living with the dramatic effects of climate change.  Adaptation has therefore become a top priority and an essential condition for increasing the resilience of countries and communities and avoiding human suffering.

I thank those countries that have already stepped up their support, especially those that have doubled their contributions to the Green Climate Fund.  I encourage all of you to take bold actions towards the global transformation of finance, in line with a carbon-neutral world.

This Summit is not meant to solve all our problems overnight; it is a springboard to effectively implement the goals set by the Paris Agreement.  We will build on the momentum we generate here for the December United Nations climate conference in Chile, and next year’s Sustainable Transport Conference in Beijing, Oceans Conference in Lisbon, Biodiversity Conference in Kunming and the Nature Summit in New York.

We need more and more ambition, more and more pressure and more and more good, old-fashioned truth-telling.  We can send the political and market signals for a transformation to a green economy for better lives, better jobs, better health, improved food security, more equality and sustainable growth.  By acting together, we will leave no one behind.

Science tells us that [on] our current path, we face at least 3ºC  of global heating by the end of the century.  I will not be there, but my granddaughters will.  And your grandchildren, too.  I refuse to be an accomplice in the destruction of their home and only home.  I will not be a silent witness to the crime of dooming our present and destroying their right to a sustainable future.  It is my obligation — our obligation — to do everything to stop the climate crisis before it stops us.

Time is running out.  But it is not too late.  So, let us heed the calls of wise leaders — religious, business and especially young people, who are taking to the streets to demand that we change our relationship with nature now.  Let’s lace up our running shoes and win the climate race for us all.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.