UN chief calls for a global state of climate emergency

Update UN chief calls for a global state of climate emergency
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a news conference at UN headquarters in New York City on Nov.20, 2020. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo)
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Updated 13 December 2020

UN chief calls for a global state of climate emergency

UN chief calls for a global state of climate emergency
  • The five-year-old Paris pact has been reinvigorated by the prospect of the US rejoining the deal

NEW YORK: More than 70 leaders from across all levels of government, the private sector and civil society spoke at the “Climate Ambition Summit.”

The virtual event was co-hosted by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the British and French governments to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement.

The speakers outlined urgent actions and concrete plans to confront the climate crisis and presented ambitious new commitments.

Several countries, including India, Pakistan, Germany and France pledged to back the deal, hoping such move would rekindle hopes of faster action to reach the 2030 goal of net-zero emissions.

On the eve of the summit, Britain pledged to stop direct government support for overseas fossil fuel projects.

The United Kingdom has also said it will cut emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990.

The EU, which plans to spend 30 percent of its Covid-19 recovery fund on climate action, pledged to cut emissions 55 percent by 2030.

The Paris pact has been reinvigorated in recent months by the prospect of US President-elect Joe Biden rejoining the deal, as well as new commitments from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who had announced his country would become carbon neutral by 2060, revealing goals to accelerate the advancement of wind and solar power.

In his opening remarks, Guterres said the commitments made in Paris are not being met, pointing to the record levels of carbon dioxide: “Can anybody still deny we are facing a dramatic emergency? 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.”

Calling for the pandemic recovery and climate action to be “two sides of the same coin,” Guterres said the Covid-19 economic relief packages represent an opportunity to speed the green transition to a low-carbon future:

“So far, the members of the G20 are spending 50 per cent more in their stimulus and rescue packages on sectors linked to fossil fuel production and consumption, than on low-carbon energy.

“This is unacceptable. The trillions of dollars needed for COVID recovery is money that we are borrowing from future generations,” Guterres said.

He added that the recovery from the pandemic also represents an opportunity to reset economies and societies on a path in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — the 17 UN objectives aimed at eliminating inequalities including poverty, gender bias and illiteracy by 2030.

“But that is not yet happening,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated that “the crisis gives us the opportunity to accelerate our ecological transition.”

The summit comes at a time when the world is witnessing the dramatic impact of climate change, from wildfires to thinning ice-sheets to rising sea-levels.

The Climate Ambition Summit took place a year after the “Climate Action Summit” at which teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg directed a scathing rebuke at politicians.

“You are failing us” she said, “but the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you, and if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.”

Saturday’s summit is a preamble to the next UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) which will be hosted by the UK in November 2021 in Glasgow.