UN chief wants worldwide 'state of climate emergency'

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech at the Climate Ambition Summit at the UN headquarters in New York, on Dec. 12, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday called for a worldwide "state of climate emergency" to tackle global warming.

Five years after the Paris Agreement on climate change, the world is still not going in the right direction, he told the Climate Ambition Summit co-convened by the United Nations and the governments of Britain and France.

The Paris Agreement promised to limit temperature rise to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible. But the commitments made in Paris were far from enough to get there. And even those commitments are not being met, he noted.

"Carbon dioxide levels are at record highs. Today, we are 1.2 degrees hotter than before the industrial revolution. If we don't change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3 degrees this century. Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency?" he asked.

"That is why today I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a state of climate emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached."

Some 38 countries have already done so, recognizing the urgency and the stakes. All other countries should follow, said Guterres.

The recovery from COVID-19 presents an opportunity to set economies and societies on a green path in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said.

But that is not yet happening. So far, the members of the Group of 20 largest economies in the world are spending 50 percent more in their stimulus and rescue packages on sectors linked to fossil fuel production and consumption, than on low-carbon energy. This is unacceptable, he said.

"The trillions of dollars needed for COVID recovery is money that we are borrowing from future generations. This is a moral test. We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet."

To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, meaningful cuts are needed now to reduce global emissions by 45 percent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels, he said.

This must be fully reflected in the revised and strengthened Nationally Determined Contributions that the signatories to the Paris Agreement are obliged to submit well before the UN Climate Change Conference next year in Glasgow, Scotland.

Britain has pledged to cut emissions by 68 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. The European Union has agreed to cut emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990, he noted.

"These decisions deserve to be emulated. Every country, city, financial institution and company needs to adopt plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and start executing them now, including by providing clear short-term targets. Key emitting sectors such as shipping, aviation and industry must also present and implement new, transformational roadmaps in line with this goal," said Guterres.

"Technology is on our side. Sound economic analysis is our ally. Renewable energy is getting less expensive with every passing day. Climate action can be the catalyst for millions of new jobs, better health and resilient infrastructure," he said.

Global economic policies and finance must be aligned with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

It is time to put a price on carbon; to phase out fossil fuel finance and end fossil fuel subsidies; to stop building new coal power plants; to shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters; to make climate-related financial risk disclosures mandatory; and to integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal policies and decisions, he said.

The private financial sector must support companies to transform their business models, align its investments with the net-zero emissions goal and disclose its progress. Asset owners and managers must decarbonize their portfolios. International financial institutions and national development banks must help to mobilize private finance and private investment for developing countries. And developed countries must meet their commitment to providing 100 billion U.S. dollars a year to developing countries by 2020 to help them adapt, he said.

"We are not there yet. Our collective goal must be to surpass the 100-billion-dollar-a-year target in 2021 and to scale up international public finance in the period after. But today, adaptation represents only 20 percent of climate finance. We need a breakthrough on adaption and resilience."

This is a moment of truth. But it is also a moment of hope. More and more countries have committed to net-zero emissions. The business community is getting onboard the sustainability train. Cities are striving to become greener and more livable. Young people are taking on responsibility and demanding it of others, he said. "Mindsets are shifting."

Climate action is the barometer of leadership in today's world. It is what people and the planet need at this time, he said.

"We have the blueprint: the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. But we all need to pass a credibility test: let's make the promise of a net-zero world a reality now."

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