Secretary-General: Greater ambition, urgency needed to avert climate crisis

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe. l to r: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate; Secretary General António Guterres; and Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, Honorary Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, at the 2018 Global Commission Report Launch at United Nations Headquarters in New York, on 05 September 2018.

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the launch of the New Climate Economy report, in New York on 5 September:

I am very pleased to join you for the launch of the New Climate Economy report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. I want to thank the Co-Chairs, Lord Nicholas Stern and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as well as former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, for their leadership.

Over the past four years, the Commission has helped to advance understanding of the links between economic prosperity, sustainable development and climate change. It has shown that climate action and socioeconomic progress are mutually supportive. Yet, despite some encouraging momentum, we are not making progress fast enough.

Climate change is running faster than we are. The impacts are devastating, and it is usually the poorest and the most vulnerable who are hit first and worst by storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and rising seas. Women and girls will suffer especially, as they are always the most disproportionately affected by disasters.

Last year, climate-related disasters were responsible for thousands of deaths and $320 billion in losses. This year, we have seen the terrible flooding in Kerala in India, savage wildfires in California and Canada, and dramatic warming in the Arctic that is affecting weather patterns across the northern hemisphere.

The trend is clear. The last 19 years included 18 of the warmest years on record, and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise.

As a forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report will show, time is running out to keep global average temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C. A significant gap remains between the national commitments and the emissions reductions we need.

Runaway climate change is a real possibility, with severe implications for communities, economies, peace and the security of nations. Climate change has been proven to amplify and exacerbate other risks. Put simply, we need climate action to prevent ever greater crises. We must act with greater ambition and urgency. The New Climate Economy report shows how.

First, it highlights how momentum for climate action is growing every day. Over 130 of the world’s most influential companies have now committed to using only renewable energy. Eighteen multinationals have committed to using only electric vehicles. Countries whose economies rely heavily on fossil fuels are looking at diversifying — and ensuring protections for affected workers and communities. Investments are shifting. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world, has moved away from investments in coal. Over 250 investors with $28 trillion in managed assets have signed on to the Climate Action 100+ initiative.

The report also highlights the immense opportunities offered by shifting to a new sustainable growth path. For example, for every dollar spent restoring degraded forests, as much as $30 can be recouped in economic benefits. Climate-resilient water supply and sanitation could save the lives of more than 360,000 infants every year. Restoring degraded lands means better lives and income for farmers and pastoralists and less pressure to migrate to cities. Clean air has vast benefits for public health.

Today, renewable energy is already often cheaper than fossil fuels, despite continued subsidies for fossil fuels. It can help deliver access to energy to the 1 billion people who currently lack electricity. For example, Bangladesh has installed more than 4 million solar home systems. This has created more than 115,000 jobs and saved rural households over $400 million in polluting fuels.

So, I encourage decision-makers to use this report’s findings and recommendations to increase action and ambition in support of the Paris Agreement. Next week, the Global Climate Action Summit in California will highlight what is being done around the world by States, regional Governments and businesses. It will be followed by the One Planet Summit in New York, and the United Nations General Assembly, where climate change will be high on the agenda. Then, in December, climate negotiators will meet in Katowice, Poland, for the annual United Nations climate conference.

2018 Climate Economy Report — UN Chief

It is imperative that we galvanize climate action ahead of the milestone 2020 meeting of parties to the Paris Agreement. To that end, I will convene a climate summit in September next year. Next week, here in New York, I will outline in a speech to youth, civil society, business leaders and diplomats my understanding of where we stand and where we need to go.

There is a groundswell of climate awareness around the world that we must use to catalyse action by all actors — especially national Governments.

This report helps by showing the benefits of climate-friendly and climate-resilient growth. If we follow its lead, and if we do what science and common-sense demand, we can still avert runaway climate change and achieve our Sustainable Development Goals. That is what I will continue working towards. And I thank you very much for your extremely important contribution.