Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

25 October 2021

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at the Middle East Green Initiative Summit 2021: Session Titled: “International Prospective” [as prepared for delivery]

Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,

Thank you for inviting me to be here.

This has been a very useful and timely conversation with only a few days to the G20 Summit in Rome and immediately after that COP26 in Glasgow.

Let me first congratulate all the leaders here for the successful launch of the Middle East Green Initiative, and in particular Saudi Arabia for spearheading this effort and for hosting us today.

You have decided to design the Middle East Green Initiative so that it will not only help reduce emissions from the Oil & Gas industry in the region, but it will also create new carbon sinks and help restore and protect vast swaths of land through afforestation. The ambition to plant 50 billion trees is truly impressive and will have many co-benefits for the people.

I also want to congratulate the Leadership of Saudi Arabia for the announcement made on Saturday that the Kingdom will reach Net-Zero emissions by 2060. This is an “enormous step” in the right direction. It is the right strategic decision for the Kingdom and I am pleased to see that others in the region, such as the United Arab Emirates, have also moved in the same direction.

Mostly, what I heard today is a political commitment and a strategic vision to transition the region’s economies away from an unsustainable development model based on commodity exports to a new development model in better harmony with Nature and fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

It is now clear that the global economy is irreversibly heading towards the deep decarbonization of all sectors, from energy, to manufacturing, transport, and food systems.
The market signals and the science are clear:

The Secretary General has raised the alarm and has called the latest IPCC report a “Code Red for Humanity”. He has warned that if we fail to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, we will condemn our children to a “hellish future”.

We need to urgently peak, reduce, and stabilize global green-house gas emissions to Net Zero by 2050. This means cutting global emissions by 45% compared to 2010 levels by 2030.


Entire communities are already being hurt by climate impacts, all over the world.

The Middle East and North Africa region is particularly vulnerable to climate impacts and exposed to a range of systemic risks, such as water stress, desertification, food insecurity, forced displacement, and extreme heat waves… to name a few.

If no action is taken, this region will face 200 days of extreme heat, and temperatures of 50°C, every year by the end of the century.

But the region also has incredible assets to leverage, which could make it a frontrunner for a post-carbon, resilient, and inclusive economy. Your meeting is a testimony to this.


In our fight against climate change, failure is a choice, not a certainty.

We must act fast and ensure that the transition to net-zero is just for all people, and all regions — especially for those dependent on revenues from oil and gas.

For these countries, the transition away from fossil fuels will undoubtedly be a challenge of epic proportions, requiring scaled-up and targeted investments to support those who will be temporarily impacted.

But these investments could yield innumerable benefits in the long-term, while a mismanaged energy transition would all but ensure that the world descends into a state of greater inequality, poverty, and unrest.

Solidarity and fairness are core principles that underpin the multilateral regime. That is why I am pleased to see that the Middle East Green Initiative is a regional and cooperative approach to climate action.

That is also why I urge you to come to COP26 prepared to make it not only a “success” but a real “turning point” to achieve a green, resilient, and just transition. 

Let me suggest a few concrete ideas:

First, all countries must submit revised and updated NDCs that bring us closer to our collective emission reduction goal: a 45% cut by 2030 compared to 2010 and Net-Zero by 2050, globally.

Updated NDCs must capture the highest level of ambition possible, and then some. And they should be revised, every year, if necessary, until we close the emissions gap.

G20 countries, who are responsible for up to 80% of global emissions must lead by example.  

We look forward to the new NDC of Saudi Arabia to be presented at COP26, which must be aligned with the Net Zero objective. The 2030 targets are as important as the longer-term goals.

Second, adaptation must be recognized and treated both as a local and a global priority: this is why we are asking all donors to allocate at least 50% of their climate finance to adaptation. Quite frankly, we are at pain to understand why public and multilateral development banks have not already taken these steps.

As shareholders of multilateral, regional and national development banks and funds, you can instruct your representatives at the Boards of these institutions to work toward allocating 50% of climate finance to adaptation.

Third, on Finance. The full operationalization of article 2.1c the Paris Agreement requires that all public and private finance flow towards investments that are aligned with the SDGs and Paris Agreement.

Private finance will bring investments to scale - public finance alone will not be enough.

However, private finance needs to reach markets and constituencies that are not always on their radar: least developed countries, small-developing islands and in general vulnerable communities.

And private finance institutions, like everybody else, need to pass the credibility test. This means robust taxonomies and standards; mandatory climate risk disclosure, and more transparency across the board to ensure that all financial flows contribute to keeping the 1.5C degree goal within reach. Here too, credibility will be key.

Finally, private finance actors must participate in the G20’s Common Framework for Debt Treatment, to ensure that developing countries can maintain sustainable levels of debt without being asked to make impossible trade-offs to the detriment of their people and our planet.

On public finance, we need to significantly scale up grant-based funding, and align funds that already exist with sustainability goals.

We need more efficient and faster access to climate finance, especially for the most vulnerable countries. This means getting multilateral institutions to cut the considerable amount of red tape often required to get access to their funding.

This also means lowering eligibility criteria for ODA for least developed countries and small islands: something we should all ask the OECD to engage work on.

Finally, developed countries need to meet and exceed the $100bn at the bare minimum, and start looking ahead at the post 2025 finance goal.

I urge you to give clear guidance to your delegations at COP26 to seek compromise and reach consensus on these and other pending issues.

And I thank you for your path breaking work on the Middle East Green Initiative.

Your leadership is needed more than ever at this historic juncture.

Thank you.