Parallel threats of COVID-19, climate change, require ‘brave, visionary and collaborative leadership’: UN chief

28 April 2020

To combat the COVID-19 pandemic and the “looming existential threat of climate disruption”, the only credible response is “brave, visionary and collaborative leadership” anchored in mutilateralism, the UN Secretary General António Guterres, said on Tuesday, during an international discussion focused on climate change.

And against the backdrop of threatened lives, crippled businesses and damaged economies, the UN chief warned the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are also under threat.

“The highest cost is the cost of doing nothing”, he spelled out, underscoring the need to urgently “strengthen resilience and cut greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees” above pre-industrial levels, to mitigate climate change. 

Political will required

Heartened by technology and public opinion, especially among the younger generations, he observed that many cities and businesses are taking action.

“But we still lack the necessary political will”, he said, advocating for “significantly more ambition” on mitigation, adaptation and financing. 

On mitigation, all countries must commit to carbon neutrality by 2050. And developing countries – least responsible for climate change but most vulnerable to its impacts – need resilience-building support. This requires adequate financing, beginning with a promised $100 billion dollars a year for mitigation and adaptation efforts, added Mr. Guterres. 

‘Profound opportunity’

In planning the coronavirus pandemic recovery, there is “a profound opportunity” to steer the world on “a path that tackles climate change, protects the environment, reverses biodiversity loss and ensures the long-term health and security of humankind”, the Secretary-General said.

“By making the transition to low-carbon, climate-resilient growth, we can create a world that is clean, green, safe, just and more prosperous for all”, he emphasized.

As such, he proposed six different climate-related actions that countries can take, to shape the recovery.

Recognizing that like the coronavirus, greenhouse gases respect no boundaries, Mr. Guterres maintained that isolation is a trap in which “no country can succeed alone”.

“We already have a common framework for action – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change”, he reminded.

Carbon neutrality by 2050

Pointing out that 121 States have already committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, the Secretary-General asked all countries to “prepare enhanced national climate action plans”, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), “to reach net zero emissions by 2050”.

Actions for a climate-positive recovery

1.    Deliver new jobs and businesses through a green and just transition while accelerating the decarbonization of all aspects of the economy.
2.    Use taxpayers’ money to create green jobs and inclusive growth when rescuing businesses.
3.    Shift economies from grey to green, with using public financing that makes societies more resilient.
4.    Invest public funds in the future, to projects that help the environment and climate.
5.    Consider risks and opportunities for your own economy, as the global financial system works to shape policy and infrastructure. 
6.    Work together as an international community to combat COVID-19 and climate change.

    “I encourage the European Union to continue showing global leadership by presenting, by the end of the year, a Nationally Determined Contribution in line with its commitment to become the first climate neutral continent by 2050”, he said.

    “The key to tackling the climate crisis is the big emitters”, upheld Mr. Guterres. 

    Noting that the world’s 20 leading economies collectively account for more than 80 per cent of global emissions and over 85 per cent of the global economy, he flagged that “all of them must also commit to carbon neutrality by 2050”.

    “Without the contribution of the big emitters, all our efforts risk to be doomed”, he conceded.

    “Let us use the pandemic recovery to provide a foundation for a safe, healthy, inclusive and more resilient world for all people”.

     

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