COVID disruption will ‘pale in comparison’ if world fails to act on climate change, SDGs

12 November 2020

The fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) “go hand in hand”, the UN chief told a major development bank conference on Thursday.

“The decisions we make now will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond: Emissions must fall by half by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050 to reach the 1.5C goal”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message to the virtual Finance in Common Summit.

“If we fail to meet these goals, the disruption to economies, societies and people caused by COVID-19 will pale in comparison to what the climate crisis holds in store”.

Mr. Guterres maintained that the world has a shared responsibility to redouble its efforts to recover from the economic and social crisis and “get on track” to achieve the SDGs and build a sustainable, inclusive and resilient future.

“Global solidarity is imperative to defeat the virus and recover better”, he upheld.

Encouraging signs

The UN chief told participants he was encouraged by the growing number of countries committing to the net zero target.

He noted that the European Union (EU) had pledged to become the first carbon-neutral bloc by 2050 and has aligned its COVID-19 recovery package with that objective. And 110 other countries, including the United Kingdom, Japan and Korea, have also made the pledge for 2050 while China is aiming for 2060.

“This means that 50 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, and about 50 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, are now covered by a net-zero commitment”, Mr. Guterres explained, adding that many cities and businesses are realizing the “we have no alternative, and because they recognize the opportunities that are there to be seized”. 

‘Not there yet’

So far, however, no bold commitments have been made to finance the vehicles necessary for the SDGs.

The UN chief noted that public development banks are “uniquely positioned to play a leading role”, by providing concessionary finance where it is most needed, and leveraging private funding. 

“This is essential to reboot our economies and put them firmly on the path to a carbon-neutral, sustainable future”, he attested.

Key steps

The Secretary-General outlined five measures to achieve these goals, beginning with aligning the mandates of public development banks with the SDGs and carbon neutrality commitments by 2050.

“Invest…in just transition programmes, that will leave no one behind, including SDG bonds, and incorporate gender and sustainability in all instruments”, he said.

Painting a picture of enormous demands for emergency funding with simplified approval processes, Mr. Guterres’ second point was to give priority to funding immediate relief measures, particularly on public health and food security.

“Investments by public development banks have been shown to bring in more private finance instead of replacing it…[and] offer opportunities to improve governance and regulatory frameworks in the countries where they operate, providing certainty and bringing in much-needed capital”, he said. 

Thirdly, there is a need to dramatically increase public development finance for adaptation and resilience, particularly for the most vulnerable groups.

“We need to invest massively in public health, food security and education for all; in empowering women, girls and the most vulnerable; in supporting productive investment and employment; in access to energy; and in promoting human rights in general”, the UN chief spelled out.

Next, it was important to have transparency to ensure that both public and private finance supports the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.

“Work together to adopt norms, standards and certification mechanisms for sustainable finance”, he urged all countries.

Finally, Mr. Guterres underscored the need for better data.

“We need public development banks to invest in the data and statistics that strengthen the capacity of developing countries to make the decisions that are needed and…openly share their data with decision-makers for better, coordinated action”, he elaborated.

The UN chief told the participants that their decisions will “send a signal to the global financial community and to policy makers around the world”, transform development finance and “help build the foundations of a new economy fit for the 21st century”.

 

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