03 April 2014

Secretary-General's remarks on Climate Change at the Policy Spotlight with Friends of Europe [as prepared for delivery]

Viscount Etienne Davignon, President of Friends of Europe,
Mr. Giles Merritt, Secretary General of Friends of Europe,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you for honouring me for my work to raise awareness about climate change. 

All of us at the United Nations recognize this is an overarching challenge with implications for our entire agenda. 

That is why we are trying to do so much, in so many places, in so many ways, not only to sound the alarm but to point the way towards solutions.

Climate change has been at the top of priority list since the day I took office.

I am therefore very grateful for the opportunity to address you today on where we stand and where we must go.

As Secretary-General I have to deal on a daily basis with the world’s emergencies.

That is why I travelled to Moscow and Kiev last month to help defuse the crisis that has engulfed Ukraine and threatens relations between the Russian Federation and the governments of Europe and the United States.

But even as we address the most immediate hotspots, from Syria to the Central African Republic, we must look beyond the horizon and build the long-term foundations of peace. 

These, too, are life-and-death undertakings.

That is why, days after my diplomacy on Ukraine, I went to Greenland.

I wanted to learn more about the impacts of climate change in the Arctic and the threats it presents to the world as a whole.

My objective has been to impress on Member States, the world of business and the public at large that climate change is an obstacle to the future security, prosperity and sustainable development of humankind.

What I learned in Greenland confirmed many of my deepest fears.

I visited the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Greenland’s icecap meets the sea.

This is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world.

The impacts of climate change are profoundly visible, particularly through the summer months.

Greenland is the canary in the coal mine.

As our world warms, Greenland’s ice will slip faster into the sea, contributing to a rise in sea levels that already threatens hundreds of millions of people living in low-lying nations and coastal cities.

In 2011, I visited Kiribati, in the Pacific.

I met a young boy who told me he is scared to go to bed at night for fear of being drowned in his sleep.

Some estimates indicate that floods alone could cost the world's cities $1 trillion annually by 2050.

Rising seas are just one manifestation of the growing impacts of climate change.

The latest estimates from the United Nations indicate that economic losses from natural disasters this century have amounted to $2.5 trillion dollars, at least 50 per cent higher than previous estimates.

The causes are complex, but increasingly severe weather events are a significant factor.

And the damage from climate change is not simply economic.

Last year, I visited the Sahel, where three devastating droughts in a decade have combined with other factors to create an overwhelming humanitarian crisis.

All around the world, it is plain that climate change is happening. 

Human activities are the principal cause. 

This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report, focusing on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

It emphasizes that the effects of climate change are already widespread and consequential -- from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the poorest countries to the wealthiest.

It says that climate change has already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water resources, and some industries.

And it indicates that climate change will pose risks for human health and security, especially from food and water shortages.

In many cases it will act as a threat multiplier, turning problems into crises and reducing options for solutions.

We must act on what we know and take urgent steps before it is too late.

The problem is global and everyone has a role to play. 

This Policy Spotlight event is well placed to contribute.  After all, Europe has both the power and a responsibility to lead – in pioneering solutions at home; in propagating answers abroad; and in the climate negotiations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are running out of time.

But, it is not too late.

Here is my prescription for action.

First, we need a meaningful, robust, universal, legal climate agreement by 2015.

We need transformative collective action to reduce emissions rapidly enough to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to strengthen resilience to the many climate impacts that are already occurring or are bound to happen.

Member States have agreed on this goal.

To add political momentum and catalyze action on the ground, I am convening a Climate Summit on September 23rd in New York.

I am inviting leaders from Government, civil society and the business and finance communities to attend.

I am urging all to raise the level of ambition.

Governments have to lead.

But civil society and the private sector have a significant role to play.

Civil society organizations can step up pressure on local and national authorities to act.

And businesses can make sure they are part of the solution, not the problem.

For many, this should be a question of simple economics.

Climate change is both a risk and an opportunity.

For example, by investing in energy efficiency, companies can reap considerable returns.

These can be increased further by working up and down supply chains with suppliers and consumers to embed sustainability in all aspects of business.

I call on businesses to press their governments to reach an agreement on climate change that will send the right signals to the private sector and provide the framework they need to act with confidence.

The foundations for this agreement must be firmly in place by the time Parties meet in Lima later this year, and the agreement must be cemented next year in Paris.

My Summit in September aims to facilitate this essential trajectory.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My second point concerns climate finance.

Climate finance is an essential investment in the future.

We must not allow it to be overwhelmed by short-term budget constraints.

Vast private resources exist and can be made available to address climate change.

But they cannot be released without a public lever.

Developing countries, in particular, need financial support to take immediate action to fight climate change and build their own low-carbon futures.

They have an indisputable right to development.

But their sustainable progress -- and that of the world -- demands they do so as cleanly as possible.

The industrial world’s development paradigm is no longer a viable option.

The new Green Climate Fund has been built to be a key global channel for funding.

It is essential that it is well capitalized.

I count on Europe to contribute generously and with foresight.

Third, we should work towards a realistic price on carbon that reflects the real environmental costs of the fossil fuel economy.

This can also help spur much-needed incentives for investment in clean energy and energy efficiency.

Simply by cutting global fuel subsidies, which amount to $500 billion dollars a year, we could prompt a 5 per cent drop in emissions by 2020.

I recognize that these ideas are politically contentious, but science and economics alike tell us that such measures can provide rapid and far-reaching results.

Let us summon the political will to act on these and other high-impact initiatives.

This is my fourth point.

Our motto should be adopt and adapt.

Let us adopt the solutions that will work fastest and best.

And let us adapt them and scale them up wherever and whenever we can.

Europe has much to offer– from renewable energy to energy efficiency; from climate smart agriculture to integrated water resources management; from sustainable transport to cleaner cities.

The world’s 100 largest cities contribute nearly 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

They therefore present prime opportunities for advancing green, sustainable growth.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we seek determined steps in these four areas, we must also clear up misconceptions about climate change. 

I often hear it said that climate change and sustainable development are two separate agendas.

Even worse, I hear that addressing climate change would somehow detract from economic and social development and that it should be saved for “later”, once development is assured.

Let me emphasize: climate action is action for sustainable development.

Let me give an example.

Some climate pollutants, such as black carbon, are not just a major cause of climate change, they are a threat to health.

According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

Some 7 million people a year die from household and ambient air pollution.

By reducing black carbon emissions from heavy-duty diesel vehicles and engines, developing countries can cut harmful emissions while creating cleaner air in their cities.

And by promoting the use of clean cook stoves, people who depend on wood, charcoal and kerosene can breathe more safely in their own homes.

I urge Europe to support the new Climate and Clean Air Coalition that aims to address these damaging and deadly pollutants.

Another example of climate action that advances development is the work being done under the United Nations REDD Programme to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.

Deforestation and forest degradation are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

By protecting and sustainably managing our forests, we can mitigate climate change, protect valuable biological diversity and provide development opportunity to some 1.6 billion people.

This requires not only working with Governments, but with companies that source forest products and – most important – with the people who depend on forests for food, medicine, jobs and income.

A third example is energy.

I launched the Sustainable Energy For All initiative in 2011.

It has three goals to be achieved by 2030: universal access to modern energy services; doubling energy efficiency worldwide and doubling the global share of renewables.

Sustainable energy is not only a way to help wean the world from fossil fuels.  It will provide opportunities for more than a billion people who lack access to electricity.

My final example comes in the area of agriculture.

From farm to fork, agriculture is another major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The world’s farmers are also especially vulnerable to climate change.

Whether you are an industrial grower in Italy or Iran, or a smallholder in Kenya, climate adaptation is going to be critical for food security, good nutrition and economic stability.

We need climate smart agriculture – for adaptation and for mitigation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe’s leadership is essential for the world.

Last month, at the conclusion of the European Council meeting, EU leaders affirmed that they would take a decision on an economy-wide emissions reduction target as well as on renewables and energy efficiency no later than October.

I urge the EU to reach a decision on the package as soon as possible, preferably at the June 2014 Council meeting.

I also urge the private sector to take the climate challenge seriously.

There is no profit to be gained from obstructing political progress.

But there are great benefits for those who choose to be in the vanguard of climate action.

Finally, I call on civil society organizations to continue advocating for higher ambition, immediate action and climate justice.

Your voices are critical.

We are at a critical juncture in efforts to address the climate challenge.

The road ahead includes the Climate Summit in September, the Lima conference in December, and the Paris conference a year from then.

Much heavy lifting is required.

We need to apply political courage, technological knowhow, and sensitivity toward human need.

Humankind has caused this problem.

We can only look to ourselves for the solution.

Thank you.