Global perspective Human stories

Climate change: UN chief calls for ‘great leap’ towards carbon neutrality

A woman cycles past wind turbines on a country road in Heijningen, The Netherlands.
Unsplash/Les Corpographes
A woman cycles past wind turbines on a country road in Heijningen, The Netherlands.

Climate change: UN chief calls for ‘great leap’ towards carbon neutrality

Climate and Environment

As countries work to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, they also have the chance to “get it right” on climate change, the UN Secretary-General told a virtual gathering of influential leaders on Monday. 

António Guterres was addressing the third annual Bloomberg New Economy Forum, described as “a global town hall” that brings together government, business, technology and academia. 

“2021 must be the year of a great leap towards carbon neutrality,” he said. “Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050.” 

A clear signal 

Mr. Guterres reported that recently, the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, along with more than 110 other countries, announced their pledges for achieving the carbon neutrality goal, which China also plans to reach before 2060.    

“By early 2021, countries representing more than 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70 per cent of the world economy are very likely to have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality,” he said. 

“The signal this sends to markets, institutional investors and decision-makers is clear. Carbon should be given a price.  The time of fossil fuel subsidies is over.  We must phase out coal. We must shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters.” 

He added that financial reporting on exposure to climate risks should be made mandatory, while authorities must integrate the carbon neutrality goal into economic and fiscal policies in order to truly transform industry, agriculture, transportation and the energy sector. 

Support for developing countries 

The Secretary-General highlighted the value of partnership between the United Nations and the business and private sector, including through initiatives such as the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance and the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance

However, he stressed that such coalitions “cannot be global without developing countries, which will need significant support.” 

Mr. Guterres also acknowledged that the shift to carbon neutrality will not be easy. 

“We need a just transition, with training and assistance for those who will lose jobs or be affected in other ways”, he said. 

Financing for adaptation 

Furthermore, even as countries work to mitigate emissions in the future, they must address current impacts, he continued. 

Mr. Guterres cited a recent report which revealed that only one-fifth of climate finance goes to adaptation.  Furthermore, only 14 per cent of recent financing went to the world’s least developed countries, and only two per cent to small island developing states. 

“This is not only insufficient; it is dangerous.  Adaptation should not be the forgotten component of climate action”, he stated. 

“And finally let’s be smart: this will require financing, private and public – but these are investments in a safer, more prosperous and sustainable future.” 

Learning from the pandemic 

As the COVID-19 pandemic deepens, the Secretary-General also touched on the UN’s ongoing efforts to save lives, control virus spread and ease the fallout. 

Additionally, the UN also is advocating what he called “a massive rescue package” for the most vulnerable people and countries, in addition to pressing for a global ceasefire, among other actions. 

“We are all rightly focused on responding to the pandemic.  But as we strive to overcome one crisis, we have an opening to address another,” said Mr. Guterres. 

“The pandemic has shown that we can think big and act big in the face of an emergency.  We have crucial decisions to make in the weeks and months ahead.  Let’s get it right.”