A Greener, Cleaner, Brighter Future

As the world looks to recover and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is growing global recognition that the catalyst for transformational change is investment in a green and sustainable global economy that produces jobs, reduces emissions, and builds resilience to climate impacts. 

Climate science is clear – greenhouse gas concentrations, which are already at their highest levels in 3 million years, have continued to rise, even despite economic slowdowns caused by COVID-19. Temperatures are in record-breaking territory, polar ice is retreating, and sea level is rising.

Now is the time for bold action to address the climate emergency and recover sustainably from the pandemic. Shifting to a green economy could yield a direct economic gain of at least US$26 trillion through to 2030 compared to business-as-usual. With renewable energy, we can generate three times more jobs than compared to fossil fuels – that could mean about 9 million jobs annually in the next three years.

In December, we highlight Sustainable Development Goal 13 – Climate Action – as we mark the fifth anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and an end to an unprecedented year with an ambition to recover better, stronger and healthier.

Here is everything you need to know about the Paris Agreement.

Paris agreement at five

In 2015, the world came together in Paris to agree on a pact to keep global temperature increase well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C. The agreement meant a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emission. 

In the last five years, we have seen increasing support for climate action. A growing number of countries have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050. Early next year, countries representing more than 65 percent of global carbon emissions will have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality.

People are playing their part everyday too – from driving less, to eating more plant-based meals and upcycling old clothes. ActNow, the UN campaign that encourages individual action on climate change and sustainability, has now registered over a million actions – an unprecedented show of support that proves that we are all in this together.

But we are still running behind in the race against time until every country, city, financial institution and company adopts plans for transitioning to net zero emissions, says UN Secretary-General António Guterres, calling for more ambitious national climate plans.

The race to net zero emissions, and why the world depends on it

UN News looks at the importance of reaching zero emissions and seizing the post-COVID-19 opportunity to promote renewable energy investments, smart buildings, green and public transport, and a whole range of other interventions that will help to slow climate change.

what to expect in december

Over December, a number of events and new findings are expected to set the stage for a more robust and urgent climate action in 2021 – integral in our global efforts to recover better.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres will deliver a special address on “The State of the Planet” at the World Leaders Forum to take place at Columbia University in New York City. His remarks will focus on the environmental and climate crises caused by human activity and highlight urgent steps that are needed to put the world on a sustainable path toward a prosperous future.

More information is available on the UN climate web portal.

On the anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the UN Secretary-General and the governments of the United Kingdom and France will co-host the Climate Ambition Summit. The event will renew momentum for climate action, allowing countries to put forth new and more ambitious commitments on national efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

More information will be available here.

also in december

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) will issue a provisional statement on the State of the World’s Climate report. The organization’s recent Greenhouse Gas Bulletin warned that carbon dioxide levels continue to be at record levels despite COVID-19 lockdowns. With 2020 certain to be one of the warmest years on record, if not the warmest, the forthcoming statement will look at current trends based on the first nine months of the year. The full report will be issued in early 2021. 

More information: public.wmo.int

The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Production Gap Report addresses the necessary decrease of the world’s production of fossil fuels in order to meet climate goals. The 2020 Special Report will speak specifically to how governments are expanding, or in some cases limiting, fossil fuel production as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will explore how countries can recover sustainably as they transition away from oil, coal, and gas. 

More information is available here.

This year we celebrate the 7th World Soil Day under the theme – “Keep Soil Alive, Protect Soil Diversity” – in efforts to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and human well-being by addressing the growing challenges in soil management and health.

Visit the Food and Agriculture Organization’s website for more information on the day. What is soil diversity? Join a webinar on 4 December and learn more.

The annual UNEP Emissions Gap Report shows the gap between where countries are and where they need to be in order to limit emissions to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The report looks at different scenarios based on the pledges that countries made to reduce or minimize their emissions under the Paris Agreement – and how much more countries need to do.

The report will be available here when launched.

Every year, UNEP recognizes the work of outstanding leaders from governments, civil society and the private sector, whose actions and initiatives have a positive, lasting impact on the environment. A number of brilliant Young Champions (18 to 30 years of age) will also be honoured on 15 December. Since 2005, the laureates have consistently presented affordable, achievable and scalable global environmental solutions. Last year’s champions included the country of Costa Rica, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, the company    Patagonia, and the movement    Fridays for Future.

More information is available here.

Since 2007, the UN System has been measuring and reporting on the environmental impacts of its facilities and operations by publishing data on its greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental indicators such as waste and water management. The reporting is coordinated by UNEP.

Learn more about the initiative here 

spotlight: a million acts for the planet

Can every one of us help limit global warming? Yes, says ActNow, the UN’s flagship campaign for individual action on climate change and sustainability, which recently logged more than a million actions. The campaign is built on the notion that if we change our habits and make choices that have less harmful effects on the environment, we will have the power to confront the climate challenge and build a more sustainable world collectively.

It is a clarion call to seize the moment, stay empowered and change the world – one shower, one bicycle ride and one less plastic bag at a time. 

The campaign has now enlisted eight Climate Action Superheroes who challenge children to learn and put in practice simple nature-friendly habits such as recycling, saving energy, conserving water and more. With guides like the Fume Fighter, Energy Expert and Water Wizard, turning around wasteful habits can be both fun and meaningful. 

Don’t take our word for it, take the challenge today! Download the app and watch out for a special activation on web and social media platforms around 12 December!


The Handmaid’s Tale: Making a Drama out of a Crisis

The Handmaid’s Tale may be about a fictional “alternative reality”, but the show’s creators have gone to great lengths to ensure that references to themes such as climate change, human rights abuses, and refugees, are as accurate as possible, by collaborating closely with UN experts.

UN News takes a closer look at the award-winning television series.

special focus

1 & 3 December | UN Conference on Disabilities

“People with disabilities—one billion people— are one of the most excluded groups in our society and are among the hardest hit in this crisis in terms of fatalities.” — UN Secretary-General António Guterres 

In his policy brief on “A Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19,” which was released in May 2020, the Secretary-General warned that the pandemic COVID-19 disproportionately impacts persons with disabilities both directly and indirectly.

Today, nearly half of all older people aged 60 years and over are people with disabilities. One in every five women is likely to experience disability in her life, while one in every ten children is a child with a disability. There are an estimated 1 billion people living with disabilities, and mostly in developing countries. 

This year’s conference, which opened on 30 November, is considered one of the world’s largest events focusing on disability issues. It will particularly look at the rights and needs of older people with disabilities as well as the opportunity for all persons with disabilities to live, work and thrive in inclusive and accessible environments.  

The event will also mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December under the theme, “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World.”

First Person: ‘people with disabilities are the greatest untapped resource on the planet’

UN News speaks to Mike Hess, a US-based entrepreneur and founder of the Blind Institute of Technology, as part of the International Labour Organization’s photography project “Dignity at Work: The American Experience.”

Check out other First Person accounts from the “Dignity at Work” project here.

other key events

Every year, World AIDS Day calls for support for people living with and affected by HIV, and for remembering those who lost their lives to AIDS. As we mark the day during the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, we have an opportunity to reflect on the importance of “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility.” Founded in 1988, the day was the first-ever international day for global health.

A new World AIDS Day report to be released on the day will present latest data on COVID-related disruptions to HIV services and efforts, and include ways to establish enabling environments for the delivery of those services to the people who need them most.

Visit the UNAIDS website for more information. Also, check out a series of videos to mark the day.

This year’s Human Rights Day, to be marked under the theme “Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights,” will focus on how human rights need to be at the heart of COVID-19 recovery efforts. It will be an opportunity to advocate for equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.

More information is available here.

As a timely commemoration, the day will stress the need for strong, equitable and resilient health systems and universal health coverage as we put in place sustainable plans to recover and rebuild from the pandemic. The theme, “Health for all: Protect Everyone,” will focus on the fundamental need to ensure that everyone, everywhere, must access quality essential health services without suffering financial hardship. This year, in the context of COVID-19, the theme will be, “Health for all: protect everyone.”

More information is available here.

The UN Migration Agency says that the COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to understand the power of human mobility and reimagine it for the benefit of all while advancing our commitment to leave no one behind. To be commemorated under the theme, “Reimagining Human Mobility,” the day will highlight the roles migrants, governments, UN agencies and civil society play in protecting vulnerable communities.

Visit the dedicated website for more information.

The United Nations believes that the day is not only to celebrate our diversity but also a time to remind governments of their commitments to international agreements and promise to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, including the fundamental goal of eradicating poverty. As the last international day of the year to be observed by the United Nations, it also sends a remarkable message of hope and solidarity as we step into 2021.

More information will be available here.

2021 editorial calendar

Our editorial for next year is now available. All monthly editorial packages will focus on specific Sustainable Development Goals or themes that relate to the UN System’s priority that month.

Please contact Devi Palanivelu (palanivelu@un.org) or Martin Samaan (samaanm@un.org) if you have any questions or comments about the editorial.

2021 Editorial Calendar