New York

03 February 2020

Secretary-General's remarks to Group of Friends on Climate [as delivered]

It is indeed a pleasure to be with you today, and thank you for your strong commitment to climate action. 
 
I welcome this opportunity to meet early in the New Year to discuss what we must do together in the pivotal year ahead.
 
We have a huge task ahead of us.
 
The United Nations system, including myself, remain thoroughly committed to helping Member States address the climate emergency and turn threat into opportunity. 
 
I count on you as Member States but also on the full constellation of partners, including cities, local officials, the private sector, finance institutions, the philanthropic community and civil society.  Such “bottom up” ambition at the country level is also crucial.
 
We have all now embarked together on a Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.  
 
The Decade will be crucial for achieving a fair globalization, boosting economic growth and building peaceful societies. 
 
And it will strive to generate the ambition, innovation, financing and solutions needed to usher in an era of low-emission sustainable development.
 
Climate action will be both a priority and a driver of the Decade.
 
It starts this year, with significant steps to raise ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance, what is absolutely essential to make COP26 in Glasgow a success.
 
70 countries committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, including the European Union but also many that have contributed least to the problem.  That number represents less than one fourth of global emissions.  We must make this commitment universal.
 
COP25 was a disappointment.
 
At COP26, we simply cannot afford another reversal.
 
One main focus will be enhanced ambition from all countries.
 
The biggest emitters have a responsibility to lead the way – yet the political signals are worrisome.
 
We must break the addiction to coal, which is a particular concern in East, South and Southeast Asia, but also and in several other regions.
 
Yet at a time when we should be phasing out fossil fuels, we are still seeing too many national energy plans dependent on coal and new coal plants being planned.
 
Nor have we begun to gain traction on ending subsidies for fossil fuels.  As a matter of fact, subsidies have increased last year. We need bold steps away from fossil fuel investments and perverse, counter-productive incentives.
 
And we are still clearly lagging behind in putting a price on carbon in most of the world.
 
In the past few days and weeks, authoritative reports have continued to tell a dire story.
 
Analysis from the World Meteorological Organization showed that 2019 was the second hottest year on record, and that ocean heat content is at a record level.
 
Our efforts are being made even more difficult because of geopolitical tensions and an economic slowdown.
 
On the other hand, we are seeing some encouraging signs of movement in private finance, in particular among insurance companies, asset owners and asset managers. 
 
We hear promising talk about central banks stress-testing financial institutions, businesses and industries against climate risk.  
 
I also welcome the new Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance – a UN-supported coalition of businesses worth trillions of dollars that will cooperate across borders, and even with their competitors, to mobilize long-term finance.
 
We must do everything we can to increase the number of private banks that align with net-zero emission commitments by 2050, and incorporate climate risk and carbon pricing in their investments. 
 
Indeed, I hope we can soon reach the moment when it is widely understood that it is no longer profitable to invest in the gray or brown economy.
 
One way to show progress is through implementation of the initiatives agreed at last September’s Climate Action Summit.  These span all the main concerns, from building resilience and adaptation, to action in key sectors that need significant transitions such as energy, cooling, transport, shipping and infrastructure.
 
We must also make the most of several meetings and milestones in the months ahead.
The Sustainable Transport conference in May is our chance to align our mobility systems with a climate-neutral world.  With transport the highest emitting sector, I count on your help in leveraging new ambitious commitments such as the zero-net shipping alliance.
 
The following month, we must use the Oceans Conference to reverse and end the assault on the world’s marine ecosystems and resources – including the rising tide of plastics pollution.
 
And at the Biodiversity COP in October, we must move decisively towards an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework.  Let’s not forget that one million species are in the near-term danger of extinction.
 
The links among climate, biodiversity and sustainable development are wide-ranging indeed.
 
Climate change can exacerbate conflict and gender-based violence.
 
And as we have seen in recent months, responses to climate change – from rising fuel prices to job losses in emissions-intensive industries – can cause backlash and instability.
 
We must therefore work to make our transition to a more sustainable future inclusive and just. 
 
For my part, I am mobilizing to support and scale up ambitions in our actions.
 
My new Special Envoy who will start in March, Mark Carney, will engage with finance leaders on a number of priorities, including carbon neutrality, carbon pricing, disclosure of climate risk, scaling up green financial instruments, embedding climate into economic and financial priorities, and enhancing Nationally Determined contributions.  We need to push for transformation in the way the financial sector works, as a lever for more ambitious national government engagement and commitments.

Some of the Member States here today are also part of the Climate Member State Advisory Group. 

I am also reshaping the climate team in my office to align with the trajectory towards Glasgow, the priorities of 2020 and the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs by 2030.

I do not need to recite for this group the perils we face, the ways they fuel each other in a vicious circle, and the way in which impacts are accelerating beyond even the worst-case scenarios drawn up by scientists. 

CO2 concentrations are forecast to reach new highs this year.  Indeed, 2020 will be a make it-or-break it year for climate action. 

Across the months ahead, we need to rebuild trust.  At COP26, we need to close the gap between what people need and what happens at the negotiating table.

I count on you not only to recognize our predicament, but to lead our way out of it with steps that can point the way to clean, green growth, a just transition, and prosperity and stability for all. 

Thank you.