Even as the world remains focused on confronting the COVID-19 pandemic – the biggest test the world has faced since the Second World War, UN Secretary-General António Guterres today said that the world must not lose focus on climate change.

Addressing a forum of leaders from Small Island Developing States, the Secretary-General stressed that the world must work together to save lives, ease suffering, lessen the shattering economic and social consequences and bring the disease under control. But the recent devastation caused by Cyclone Harold in the South Pacific is yet one more reminder that we are in the midst of a climate crisis.

“Now is not the time for retreat,” he said. “The social and economic devastation caused by climate disruption will be many times greater than the current pandemic. By committing now to building back better from the pandemic, we can use the recovery from the effects of COVID-19 to secure a more sustainable and resilient future.”

The AOSIS Placencia Ambition Forum, led by Belize from 20-22 April, is the first in a number of events aimed at ensuring that the climate crisis is not lost in the response to COVID-19.  Many countries will also meet, now virtually, in the Petersberg Dialogue on 27-28 September in talks hosted by Germany.  And on Earth Day, 22 April, millions of people will take part in online events that have been organized to replace thousands of scheduled live events.

The Secretary-General called on small island states, who have traditionally been in the forefront of climate advocacy and action, to continue to assert themselves in the global movement to raise climate action and ambition.

“We need your voices now more than ever to ensure we keep the promise of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5. degrees,” he said.  “By coming forward this year with enhanced nationally determined contributions and strategies to reach net zero emissions, you will once again lead the way for others to follow on ambitious climate action.”

Mr. Guterres said the UN stands ready to support small island states. “I admire your efforts to climate-proof your economies and lead the way on sustainability. It is essential that you are supported in your efforts to adapt and build resilience.”

And he said he would continue to advocate for debt relief to help countries to survive both the impacts of COVID-19 and the growing threats of climate change.