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16 April 2021

Make 2021 ‘Make-or-Break’ Year for Climate, Energy, Other Critical Issues, Says Secretary-General in Meeting with Leading Mayors at C40 Cities Event

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks to his meeting with leading mayors supported by C40 Cities:  “Advancing a Carbon-Neutral, Resilient Recovery for Cities and Nations”, in New York today:

Thank you for joining me today, and for your commitment and leadership.

Cities are in my blood.  I was born and raised in Lisbon, and throughout my political career, I was active on the municipal council in the city of Fundão, which I led for a few years.  “All politics is local,” as the saying goes.  Mayors have enormous influence in the politics of their countries.  You are a positive and growing force on the global stage.

Welcome to the United Nations.  I will start by offering my condolences to each one of you for the tragedy and trauma your populations have suffered during the past year.  Cities have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, with high mortality and infection rates and staggering economic losses.  Many of you and your residents have endured months of pain.  The equitable distribution of vaccines in the world and in cities is a prerequisite for a sustainable economic recovery, and for better days ahead.  Let’s make vaccines a global public good.

Cities are also on the front lines of the climate crisis.  More than half a billion urban residents already face rising sea levels and more frequent or severe storms.  By mid-century more than 3.3 billion urban residents could be at risk from severe climate impacts.  Cities also have an outsize carbon footprint.  With just over half the global population, they emit more than 70 per cent of global greenhouse gases.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global catastrophe.  But investment in recovery is a generational opportunity to put climate action, clean energy and sustainable development at the heart of cities’ strategies and policies.  How we design power generation, transport and buildings in cities — how we design the cities themselves — will be decisive in getting on track to achieve the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The science is clear.  To keep the goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees within reach, the world must achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.  A growing coalition of countries, cities, companies and financial institutions have committed to net zero.  But this long-term vision is not yet entirely reflected in concrete plans.

We must cut global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, compared with 2010 levels.  A recent report put the total cuts pledged by countries representing 30 per cent of global emissions is now at less than 1 per cent.  I hope that until Glasgow things will change.  I call on you to take urgent action on three fronts.

First, to work with your national leaders to make sure they engage and they present ambitious nationally determined contributions, well before COP26 in November.  They need to hear from you that climate action coupled with policies for a just transition brings decent work and higher living standards and is supported by your residents.

Second, commit your city to net zero by 2050, make ambitious plans for the next decade, and bring your fellow mayors and local leaders with you.

Third, use the recovery from the pandemic to accelerate investment and implementation in clean, green infrastructure and transport systems.  From public transport corridors and new cable car lines in Mexico City to Johannesburg’s pledge of net-zero carbon for all buildings by 2030 and Lisbon’s target of multiplying solar energy production by 50.

Cities are already succeeding on climate action.  The challenge is to speed up and scale up.  Key areas for action are phasing out coal and investing in climate-smart buildings and transport systems.  Ending the use of coal is the single most important step the world can take to ensure temperature rise is limited to 1.5 degrees.

Cities stand to gain most from phasing out coal:  clean air; green outdoor spaces; healthier people.  Many of your residents are suffering and dying prematurely because of coal pollution in several cities around the world.  By 2030, at least 80 per cent of power generation in cities should be from renewable energy sources.

Buildings are responsible for over a third of global energy consumption.  To keep the world’s 1.5-degree goal within reach, emissions from buildings must fall by 90 per cent by mid-century, compared with 2010 levels.

And city transport networks account for 14 per cent of global emissions.  We need a revolution in urban planning and in urban mobility:  including better fuel efficiency; zero-emission vehicles; and shifts toward walking, cycling, public transport and shorter commutes.

Adaptation cannot be the neglected half of the climate equation.  The impacts of climate change are here and will grow.  We need to protect the most vulnerable neighbourhoods and communities.  Climate risks must be integrated into all decision-making around infrastructure.

We need a breakthrough on finance.  Just 5 per cent of urban climate investment goes to adaptation and resilience.  This is why I have called for 50 per cent of climate finance globally provided by developed countries and multilateral development banks to go to adaptation and resilience in developing countries.

Cities have their own specific requirements.  So I will advocate for your access to financing mechanisms, to address the fiscal gaps you face and provide funding for investments that could save millions of lives and protect trillions of dollars in economic assets.

The international community is changing, and cities are more important than ever.  I believe in a future for the United Nations based on an inclusive, networked multilateralism that links national Governments, civil society, businesses and cities with global and regional organizations, trading blocs and financial institutions.

We recognize the importance of diversity, including women’s equal leadership, which brings new approaches and greater effectiveness.  I am pleased to see many women leaders here today.

On the ground and around the world, our network of resident coordinators and country teams can support your policies and priorities, provide you with the expertise of our specialist agencies, and connect you with other global players.  Please count on us and engage with us.

As we look forward to COP26, and this year’s other important conferences on energy, transport, biodiversity and food systems, let’s make 2021 a turning point — a make-or-break year.  With solidarity and common purpose, we can achieve an inclusive, sustainable recovery, ignite the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, and lay the foundations for the clean, green cities of the future.

For information media. Not an official record.