Austria

17 September 2020

Secretary-General's video remarks to Austrian World Summit

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
 
I thank the Austrian government and Mr. Schwarzenegger for convening the Austrian World Summit.
 
Last year, I stood before you in Vienna.
 
Since then, much has changed.
 
But some things have not.
 
Economies have been thrown into reverse by the pandemic. 
 
But climate disruption has not.
 
Lockdowns may have led to cleaner, breathable air in many cities, at least for the short-term, but emissions are rising back fast and, in some places, they already surpass pre-COVID levels.
 
Global heating is driving more severe and more frequent natural disasters.
 
Wildfires in California.  Floods in southern Asia.  Fierce hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons.  Severe protracted droughts.
 
The Greenland ice sheet -- Earth’s climate early warning system – is melting at unprecedented speed.
 
And now a global pandemic has laid bare fragilities that we have ignored for too long. 
 
Just as COVID-19 does not affect everyone the same, climate change is having an unequal impact, targeting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
 
This is why we speak of climate justice.
 
The wealthiest ten per cent of the population are responsible for more than half of greenhouse gas emissions.
 
The poorest and most vulnerable 50 per cent contribute just 7 per cent.
 
Dear friends,
 
A year ago, I urged you to join forces, to work with governments and business leaders on practical climate solutions. 
 
I challenged you to bring concrete plans to last September’s Climate Action Summit.
 
Since then, more than 100 institutions have come together in 40 coalitions, providing answers -- on coal, shipping, transport and heavy industry and cooling; from resilience and adaptation to solutions that work with nature, not against it.
 
I also challenged leaders to tax polluters and pollution, to reform fossil fuel subsidies and to stop building new coal-fired power plants.
 
Now, one year later, as countries mobilize trillions of dollars of taxpayer’s money for economic recovery, we have a choice of two paths.
 
We can either throw away money on the fossil fuels of the past. 
 
That is the road to more pollution, worse health outcomes, stranded assets and greater climate destruction.
 
Or we can invest in the technologies of the future: renewable energy, nature-based solutions, sustainable transport and green technologies.
 
Only one of these paths is rational.
 
There is only one that will help us recover better. 
 
We must choose the sustainable path.
 
It is a moral duty and an economic imperative.
 
That is why the world’s largest investors are already divesting from polluting industries, especially coal.
 
They see these outdated technologies make no commercial sense.
 
Without taxpayer subsidies, they are bankrupt enterprises.
 
The cost of renewables is already lower.
 
It now costs less to build new renewable energy capacity, including battery storage, than to continue operating 39 per cent of the world’s existing coal capacity. 
 
That figure is expected to reach 60 per cent by 2022.
 
In response, investors are moving at scale into the growth sectors of the future.
 
As nations face unemployment levels not seen for generations, it is these clean technologies that offer the best path back to prosperity.
 
Renewables already offer three times more jobs than the fossil fuel industry, and they are only just now starting to scale up.
 
Those are the economic opportunities.
 
There are also opportunity costs, as the colossal price of climate inaction continues to mount.
 
A failure to act now will make it more difficult to limit climate change in the future.
 
It will also end up costing us far more, in lives, livelihoods and property.
 
So, I am frankly bewildered by those who argue that we cannot afford to take climate action. 
 
The obvious reality is that taking climate action is the only path to sustained economic growth and decent job creation. 
 
Not just for future generations or political cycles, but right now, in the world we live in today.
 
This is why I have urged governments to take six climate-positive actions as they map out their recoveries from the pandemic.
 
Invest in green jobs. 
 
Do not bail out polluting industries.
 
End fossil-fuel subsidies.
 
Take climate risks into account in all financial and policy decisions.
 
Work together.
 
And, most important, leave no one behind.
 
Only by bringing all people on board can we overcome the climate crisis that threatens all of humanity.
 
Governments, business and civil society must work together. 
 
We must protect those who have done least to cause climate change, but who endure the worst impacts. 
 
And we must spread the benefits of the green economy widely, including supporting those whose jobs will be affected as global capital continues to desert fossil fuels.
 
I urge Austria and other European Union member states to lead by example in implementing the EU’s green deal.
 
And I urge them to announce before the end of this year a new Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement that is aligned with the 1.5-degree goal.
 
Finally, COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse for developed countries to backtrack on their development assistance or climate finance commitments to the developing world.
 
The developing world needs support and solidarity to fight both the pandemic and the climate crisis. 
 
This is the only way we will get the job done -- by working together, in solidarity with the most vulnerable.
 
I urge you to join the global effort to address the climate crisis and build a more prosperous and equitable future for everyone on a healthy planet.
 
Thank you.