UN Headquarters

29 March 2018

Opening remarks at press encounter on climate change

António Guterres

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.