UN Secretary-General Urges Leadership to Face “Direct Existential Threat” of Climate Change
UN Photo/Cia Pak
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Guterres underscored that if we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where “runaway climate change” can be avoided.

He called for shifting from dependence on fossil fuels towards cleaner energy and away from deforestation to more efficient use of resources.

Guterres urged leaders to use every opportunity between now and the Katowice Climate Change Conference, to resolve remaining sticking points.

Luis Alfonso de Alba, Mexico, will serve as the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to lead preparations for the UN 2019 Climate Summit.

11 September 2018: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has delivered a key speech and major policy statement on climate change, outlining his expectations for the next three years. Speaking at UN Headquaters, Guterres said that “we face a direct existential threat” as “climate change is moving faster than we are,” and the world risks crossing “the point of no return” on climate change, with disastrous consequences for people across the planet and the natural systems that sustain them.

Pointing to accelerating impacts due to extreme heatwaves, wildfires, storms and floods, he underscored that if we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where “runaway climate change” can be avoided. Guterres highlighted the potential of clean technology to reduce climate change, which is competitive with, and even cheaper than, coal and oil, especially when factoring in the cost of pollution.

Citing the recent New Climate Economy report produced by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, Guterres said that climate action and socioeconomic progress are mutually supportive, with gains of US$26 trillion predicted by 2030 compared with business-as-usual scenarios.

He called for shifting from dependence on fossil fuels towards cleaner energy and away from deforestation to more efficient use of resources. Guterres said the idea that tackling climate change is expensive and could harm economic growth is “hogwash,” and emphasized the economic costs of climate change and opportunities presented by climate action. Highlighting the “skewed” impact of climate change on vulnerable nations, he urged richer countries to do more to assist them.

Regarding ongoing climate negotiations under the UNFCCC, Guterres expressed concern over the slow progress of negotiations on the Paris Agreement’s implementation guidelines, which are expected to be adopted in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018. He called for leadership, a sense of urgency and a “true commitment to a decisive multilateral response,” and called on leaders to use every opportunity between now and the Katowice Climate Change Conference, to resolve remaining sticking points.

The idea that tackling climate change is expensive and could harm economic growth is “hogwash.”

Regarding the UN 2019 Climate Summit, convening to bring climate action to the top of the international agenda, Guterres noted the appointment of Luis Alfonso de Alba, Mexico, as his Special Envoy to lead preparations for the Summit. He said the Summit will focus on: high-emitting sectors; areas where building resilience could make the biggest difference; and providing leaders and partners with the opportunity to demonstrate real climate action and showcase their ambition. Guterres called on all leaders to come to the Climate Summit prepared to report not only on current efforts, but on what more they intend to do when they convene in 2020 for the UN Climate Change Conference to renew commitments and, hopefully, increase ambition.

The Secretary-General also called on civil society and young people to push the agenda of climate action. [UNFCCC Press Release] [UN News Story] [Remarks of the UN Secretary-General] [Video of UN Secretary-General’s Speech]

Welcoming and responding to the Secretary-General’s statement, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner pointed to the “profound and disruptive impact” climate change is having, especially among the most vulnerable. He cited the recent displacement of a million people in Kerala, India, due to the heaviest rains in nearly a century, and the impending hurricane expected to the hit the US East Coast in the coming days. He added that taking action on climate change presents enormous opportunities to create jobs, save money on energy, boost food production and “breathe clean air.” Steiner urged national governments to join forces with subnational actors, business, investors and civil society, and called on countries to raise their ambition. [UNDP News Story]

World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, who provided scientific support for the Secretary-General’s policy statement, noted that 2018 is on track to be one of the warmest years on record, following the long-term trend of climate change, ice and glacier melt, sea level rise and ocean acidification. Speaking to journalists, Taalas highlighted the record high temperatures and precipitation anomalies that have affected many regions in 2018, including the severe summer heatwave in Europe. He called for “weather proofing” society to the impacts of extreme weather, climate and water-related events through early warnings, adaptation and resilience building. [WMO News Story]


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