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12 December 2020

Planet Headed towards Catastrophic Temperature Rise, Secretary-General Tells Summit, Calling for Global State of Climate Emergency

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Climate Ambition Summit, held today:

I am pleased to welcome you to the Climate Ambition Summit on the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  Five years after Paris, we are still not going in the right direction.  Paris promised to limit temperature rise to as close to 1.5°C as possible.

But the commitments made in Paris were far from enough to get there.  And even those commitments are not being met.  Carbon dioxide levels are at record highs.  Today, we are 1.2°C degrees hotter than before the industrial revolution.

If we don’t change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3°C this century.  Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency?

That is why, today, I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached.  Some 38 countries have already done so, recognizing the urgency and the stakes.  I urge all others to follow.

We are not doomed to fail.  The recovery from COVID-19 presents an opportunity to set our economies and societies on a green path in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

But, that is not yet happening.  So far, the members of the Group of 20 (G20) are spending 50 per cent more in their stimulus and rescue packages on sectors linked to fossil fuel production and consumption, than on low-carbon energy.

This is unacceptable.  The trillions of dollars needed for COVID-19 recovery is money that we are borrowing from future generations.  This is a moral test.  We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet.  And so, the central objective of the United Nations for 2021 is to build a truly Global Coalition for Carbon Neutrality by the middle of the century.

But, that promise is not enough.  To make it a reality, we need meaningful cuts now to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, compared with 2010 levels.  This must be fully reflected in the revised and strengthened nationally determined contributions that the Paris signatories are obliged to submit well before COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] next year in Glasgow.

I commend those leaders that will come forward today with new targets for 2025 and 2030.  The United Kingdom has pledged to cut emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990.  The European Union has agreed to cut their emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990.

These decisions deserve to be emulated.  Every country, city, financial institution and company needs to adopt plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and start executing them now, including by providing clear short-term targets.  Key emitting sectors, such as shipping, aviation and industry must also present and implement new, transformational roadmaps in line with this goal.

Technology is on our side.  Sound economic analysis is our ally.  Renewable energy is getting less expensive with every passing day.  Climate action can be the catalyst for millions of new jobs, better health and resilient infrastructure.  But, let us remember that this transition must be just and recognize that women’s leadership is good for climate action.

Global economic policies and finance must be aligned with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.  It is time:  to put a price on carbon; to phase out fossil fuel finance and end fossil fuel subsidies; to stop building new coal power plants; to shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters; to make climate-related financial risk disclosures mandatory; and to integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal policies and decisions.

The private financial sector must support companies to transform their business models, align its investments with the net‑zero emissions goal and disclose its progress.  Asset owners and managers must decarbonize their portfolios.  International financial institutions and national development banks must help to mobilize private finance and private investment for developing countries.  And developed countries must meet their commitment to provide $100 billion a year to developing countries by 2020.

We are not there yet.  Our collective goal must be to surpass the $100‑billion‑a‑year target in 2021 and to scale up international public finance in the period after.  But, today, adaptation represents only 20 per cent of climate finance.  We need a breakthrough on adaption and resilience.

This is especially urgent for small island developing States, which face an existential threat.  Adaptation must not be the forgotten component of climate action.

This is a moment of truth.  But, it is also a moment of hope.  More and more countries have committed to net‑zero emissions.  The business community is getting on board the sustainability train.  We see cities striving to become greener and more liveable.  We see young people taking on responsibility — and demanding it of others.  Mindsets are shifting.  Climate action is the barometer of leadership in today’s world.  It is what people and planet need at this time.

We have the blueprint:  the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  But, we all need to pass a credibility test:  let’s make the promise of a net-zero world a reality now.  On the path to COP26, I urge everyone to show ambition, stop the assault on our planet and do what we need to guarantee the future of our children and grandchildren.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.