23 July 2020

No Excuse Not to Meet Net-Zero Emission Target by 2050, Secretary-General Says in Global Lecture on Climate Change, Stressing Time for Small Steps Has Passed

Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message to Tsinghua University:  “Global Lecture on Climate Change — Recover Better Together”, in New York today:

Let me begin by thanking Minister Xie Zhenhua, President of the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University.  Thank you for your kind invitation and even more for your global leadership.  And it is a pleasure to greet the students of Tsinghua University — and your partners around the world.

We are all living through a global crisis like no other.  The COVID-19 pandemic continues its march of suffering and death around the world.   It is a health crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis, a human crisis.  The pandemic has laid bare severe and systemic inequalities both within and between countries and communities.  More broadly, it has underscored the world’s fragilities — not just in the face of an epic health emergency, but in our faltering response to the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and the risks of nuclear proliferation.

It is obvious that the only way to recover better is by working together.  But that is also far from guaranteed.  Done right, we can steer the recovery towards a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable path and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

But, poorly coordinated policies risk locking in — or even worsening — already unsustainable inequalities, reversing hard-won development gains and poverty reduction, and a high emissions future.  More than ever, we need unity and solidarity for action.  The unfolding climate crisis starkly illustrates the stakes and the imperative for that action.

We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future — and our response to the climate crisis is pivotal — as is your role.  In recent years, young people have been humanity’s greatest asset in the struggle against climate change.  Your ingenuity, vision and demands for climate action and climate justice have kept us in the fight.

We are seeing some encouraging signs as a result.  But, we have a very long way to go.  Global heating is accelerating.  The past decade was the hottest in human history.  Floods, chronic air pollution, droughts and wildfires are destroying lives, businesses and ecosystems.  Shortages of food and water are already fuelling armed conflict, and there is likely much worse to come without greater action.

These catastrophic consequences are very well known.  But so, too, are the solutions.  Put simply, we must limit temperature increases to 1.5ºC and protect those already being hit hardest.  This means we must achieve net-zero emissions before 2050, and 45 per cent cuts by 2030.

We have no excuse for failing to meet these goals.  We have the policies, the technology and know-how and the global framework in the Paris Agreement to achieve this.  And we have a global groundswell of public pressure for change.  This will only grow, because people everywhere know their health and prosperity depend on it.

What is urgently needed now is greater leadership from those who make decisions on their behalf.  China was an essential partner in the adoption and ratification of the Paris Agreement.  But five years later, the Paris goals risk slipping out of reach worldwide.  Even if all current national commitments are fully implemented, temperatures will still rise by over 3ºC by the end of the century.

The time for small steps has passed.  What is needed now is transformational change.  And if there was hesitation before about the possibility of such large‑scale change, the COVID-19 pandemic should erase any doubts.  In the space of just months, billions of people have had to change how they work, consume, move around and interact.  Trillions of dollars have been mobilized to save lives and livelihoods.

Now, in countries which are emerging from the health crisis, the task is to revive economic growth and jobs.  Unprecedented sums of taxpayers’ money are being spent to do so.  How this money is spent can either serve as a slingshot to hurtle climate action forward, or it can set it back many years, which science dictates we cannot afford.

Quite simply, how the world recovers from COVID-19 is a “make-or-break moment” for the health of our planet.  We have a narrow window, but a vast opportunity, to rebuild a world that is cleaner, fairer and safer for all.  I have asked all countries to consider six climate-positive actions as they rescue, rebuild and reset their economies.

First, we need to make our societies more resilient and ensure a just transition.  Second, we need green jobs and sustainable growth.  Third, bailouts of industry, aviation and shipping should be conditional on aligning with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Fourth, we need to stop wasting money on fossil fuel subsidies and the funding of coal.  There is no such thing as clean coal, and coal should have no place in any rational recovery plan.  It is deeply concerning that new coal power plants are still being planned and financed, even though renewables offer three times more jobs, and are now cheaper than coal in most countries.

Fifth, we need to consider climate risk in all decision-making.  Every financial decision must take account of environmental and social impacts.  This is more important than ever in the coming months as companies, investors and countries make far-reaching financial decisions about the future.  We need investors to demand that companies reveal transition plans to reach net-zero emissions.  The equation should be simple:  zero plans will yield zero investment.

Sixth, we need to work together.  Global challenges require global solutions.  It is imperative that G20 countries lead by example.  I have asked all G20 countries to lead the green recovery, commit to net-zero emissions before 2050 and to submit more ambitious national climate plans to the Paris Agreement before COP26 in Glasgow next year.

While emissions remain high, China has shown a clear capacity for climate leadership.  In the past five years, China has deployed more solar and wind capacity than any other country.  More than 50 per cent of electric vehicles in the world are sold in China.  China also makes 99 per cent of the world’s electric buses.

As the world moves from fossil fuels to clean energy, China can reap huge benefits by taking bold actions — stronger growth, more jobs, cleaner air, better health.  In the global race to be green, nations and firms that move quickly will reap vast competitive advantages.  This is why global investors are shunning fossil fuels and searching for clean energy to invest in at scale.

As an economic super-Power, the way in which China restores growth will have a major impact on whether we can keep 1.5ºC within reach.  Like COVID-19, climate change respects no borders.  By seizing the mantle of leadership, China can help protect all people who share this planet.

And young people in China, and around the world, can help continue to lead the way.  We cannot succeed without you.  I urge you:  keep innovating, keep speaking out, keep demanding action and ambition from your leaders.  Your voices, your determination, your collective purchasing power are all essential to hold Governments and corporations to account.

I thank you for your commitment and engagement.  I wish you well in your studies and in our shared efforts to help us all recover better together and build an inclusive and sustainable future for people and planet.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.