UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 9 : UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday urged countries to use recovery from COVID-19 to tackle climate change.
“We have a choice: business as usual, leading to further calamity; or we can use the recovery from COVID-19 to provide a real opportunity to put the world on a sustainable path,” he told a joint press conference with the chief of the World Meteorological Organization for the launch of “United in Science 2020,” a multi-agency report of the latest climate science.
“Our world remains off track — far off track — to meet the objective of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If things would remain as they are, we would go up 3 to 5 degrees above the pre-industrial level,” he warned.
As the report emphasizes, short-term lockdowns in response to COVID-19 are no substitute for the sustained climate action needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, he said. “There is no time to delay if we are to slow the trend and limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Climate action is the only way to ensure a liveable planet for this and future generations.”
As the world works to tackle both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, he urged leaders to heed the facts in the report, unite behind the science and take urgent climate action.
Guterres called on governments to prepare new and ambitious national climate plans, the Nationally Determined Contributions, in advance of the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference.
“That is how we will build a safer, more sustainable future,” he said.
He called for six climate-related actions to shape the recovery.
First, as countries spend huge amounts of money to recover from the coronavirus, they must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition.
Second, where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it needs to be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth.
Third, fiscal firepower must drive a shift from the grey to the green economy and make societies and people more resilient.
Fourth, public funds should be used to invest in the future, not the past, and flow to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate. Fossil fuel subsidies must end, polluters must pay for their pollution, and no new coal power plants should be built.
Fifth, climate risks and opportunities must be incorporated into the financial system, as well as all aspects of public policy-making and infrastructure.
Sixth, there is a need to work together as an international community.
Guterres described the report as “a catalog of a climate crisis that is worsening by the hour.”
As the report shows, greenhouse gas concentrations reached new record highs in 2020. The last time levels were this high was between 2.6 and 5.3 million years ago, in the Pliocene era when there were trees at the South Pole and sea levels were some 20 meters higher, he said.
The five-year period since the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change will be the hottest on human record — with average global temperatures of 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, he noted.