New York

29 March 2018

Secretary-General's press encounter on climate change [with Q&A]

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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning.
The headlines are naturally dominated by the escalation of tensions and conflicts, or high-level political events.
But the truth is that the most systemic threat to humankind remains climate change and I believe it is my duty to remind it to the whole of the international community.
And indeed, information released in recent days by the World Meteorological Organization, the World Bank and the International Energy Agency shows the relentless pace of climate change.
This tsunami of data should create a storm of concern.
The world reached several dire milestones in 2017.
The economic costs of climate-related disasters hit a record: $320 billion.
Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 per cent, to 32.5 gigatonnes -- a historic high.
In 2017, the hurricane season in the Caribbean was the costliest ever, un-doing decades of development in an instant.
In South Asia, major monsoon floods affected 41 million people.
In Africa, severe drought drove nearly 900,000 people from their homes.
Wildfires caused destruction across the world.
And Arctic sea [ice] recorded its lowest winter maximum ever.
The consumption of fossil fuels rose last year, and accounted for 70 per cent of the growth in global energy demand. Atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide are the highest they have been in 800,000 years.
The oceans are warmer and more acidic than at any time in recorded history.
When the Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted, our shared assumption was that humankind had the capacity to keep global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further, to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Scientists are now worried that unless accelerated action is taken by 2020, the Paris goal may become unattainable.
And I am beginning to wonder how many more alarm bells must go off before the world rises to the challenge.
We know it can be hard to address problems perceived to be years or decades away. But climate impacts are already upon us.
We are struggling to mobilize the $100 billion per year that was promised -- yet we know that the costs of inaction are far greater.
Technology is on our side. Advances continue to generate solutions. Clean, green energy is more affordable and competitive than ever.
Yet we still see enormous subsidies for fossil fuels that hinder the energy transition.
According to the International Monetary Fund, energy subsidies in 2015 amounted to $5.3 trillion -- or 6.5 per cent of global gross domestic product.
And we continue to see huge investments in unsustainable infrastructure that lock in bad practices for decades.
As many have pointed out, the Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stones.  It ended because there were better alternatives.  And the same applies today to fossil fuels.
Our problem is not that we do not know what to do -- it is how quickly we can do it.
I continue to call on world leaders to focus on bending the emissions curve and closing the emissions gap.
We need a further cut in emissions of at least 25 per cent by 2020.
And emissions of all greenhouse gases should not exceed 42 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030.
Next year, as you know, I will convene a Summit aimed at raising ambition.
Science demands it. The global economy needs it and the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people depend on it. Food security, health, stability itself all hang in the balance.
2017 was filled with climate chaos.
2018 has already brought more of the same.
Climate change is still moving faster, much faster than we are.
What the world needs is a race to the top – with political will, innovation, financing and partnerships. And I remain convinced we have what it takes to prevail.
I would also like to take profit of this occasion to pay tribute to a colleague of mine that is today leaving the United Nations: Jeffrey Feltman.
He has been, as you know, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, and I believe we all owe to him an extraordinary dedication, an enormous intelligence and a total commitment to the UN, to its values, and to peace and security in the world.
As you also know, I have appointed a new Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, the first woman ever to occupy that post. And I believe, Ms. Rosemary DiCarlo will represent a very important contribution to our work.
She is the President of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, here in New York, and Senior Fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University.
And she brings with her decades of extraordinary diplomatic experience. And I am sure she will have, with all of you, a very open and constructive relationship.
Thank you very much.
            **Questions and Answers
Question:  Can I ask you, Secretary‑General, your reaction to the fact that a date has now been set for the summit between South Korea and North Korea? How optimistic should we be about that meeting?
And can you perhaps tell us what the UN's role was in getting us to this meeting, particularly, the visit to North Korea by Mr. Feltman?
Secretary-General:  Well, I'm very happy that it was possible in that visit for us to make very clearly the case that it was needed, a resumption of dialogues between the North and the South of the Peninsula, and that it was needed, a serious negotiation between North Korea and the United States to reach the peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
I had the opportunity, when I was in PyeongChang, to meet both the North Korean delegation and to meet President Moon [Jae In] and to encourage them as much as possible to move in these two directions. I was extremely encouraged by the recent visit of the leader of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) to China, and I think China is, of course, a very important contributor to a solution in this region. And, so, I am very encouraged by the recent developments, very encouraged by the announcement of the inter‑Korean summit. And I believe that, in this world where, unfortunately, so many problems seem not to have a solution, I think there is here an opportunity for a peaceful solution to something that, a few months ago, was haunting us as the biggest danger we were facing.
Question:  Thank you, Secretary‑General. Michelle Nichols from Reuters. This week, the US announced that it would expel 12 Russian UN diplomats. How would you describe the current relations between the US and Russia? And how concerned are you by it? Are we seeing a new Cold War develop?
And on Myanmar, why haven't you appointed a Special Adviser yet?
Spokesman:  First of all, in relation to the second, I have been conducting a number of consultations for that appointment. I hope it will come soon. It is not an easy function that everyone is ready to accept, but I'm sure that we will have a solution soon.
In relation to the first question, I am really very concerned. I think we are coming to a situation that is similar, to a large extent, to what we lived during the Cold War but with two very important differences. In the Cold War, there were clearly two superpowers with a complete control of the situation of two areas in the world. Now, we have many other actors that are relatively independent and with an important role in many of the conflicts that we are witnessing, with risks of escalation that are well known.
On the other hand, during the Cold War, there were mechanisms of communication and control to avoid the escalation of incidents, to make sure that things would not get out of control when tensions would rise. Those mechanisms have been dismantled because people thought that the Cold War was finished, and so there was no reason to have this kind of precautions.
I do believe it's time for precautions of this sort, guaranteeing effective communication, guaranteeing capacity to prevent escalation.  I do believe that mechanisms of this sort are necessary again.
Question:  I actually have a climate change question, believe it or not.
Secretary-General:  I can believe it.  [Laughter]  I always believe you. 
Question:  Two related questions: First of all, the Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, a disaster looms for them. Do you think that they should be moved somewhere to safety? And, if so, where? The Bangladesh Government has been considering one of the islands to relocate them. What do you think of that?
And, at this point, almost one year after the Paris… after the Trump Administration pulled out of the Paris Agreement, are you still hopeful in any way to re‑engage the administration? And, if so, what conversations are you having, if any?
Secretary-General:  First of all, in relation to Cox's Bazar, the monsoon is the biggest concern. We believe that about 150,000 people are in areas that are flood‑prone or can be negatively impacted by the monsoon in a dangerous way for the people, and I had the opportunity to discuss with the Government of Bangladesh the best way to relocate these people. And I think the best way to relocate these people is in higher areas that can be outside… treated to accommodate this group that, of course, is extremely vulnerable to the monsoon.
The dialogue was extremely constructive, but, of course, our colleagues on the ground of UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency), IOM (International Organization for Migration), and all the other agencies will be going on in this dialogue with the Bangladesh authorities. We believe the higher ground is the best place for this kind of relocation.
Second question. Of course, it is necessary to permanently engage all those that are doubtful about climate change. But I would like to underline that, in the US society, we have seen in the business community; we have seen in the cities, and we have seen in many states a very strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, to the extent that some indicators are moving even better than in the recent past.  And I had the occasion to receive that information by my Special Envoy on climate change, Michael Bloomberg, that there are expectations that, independently of the position of the administration, the US might be able to meet the commitments made in Paris as a country.  And, as you know, all around the world, the role of governments is less and less relevant. The role of the economy, the role of the society is more and more relevant. And I have to say I'm encouraged by the very positive reactions of the American business community and the American local and regional authorities. Thank you very much.