Skip to main content

Planet at Risk for Irreversible Damage If World Does Not Act Fast to Implement Paris Commitments, Secretary-General Warns during Climate Change Event

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the high‑level leaders dialogue on climate change, in New York today:

Thank you for joining us during this meeting a few weeks before we meet again in Katowice to discuss the urgent matter of climate change.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time – and we are at a defining moment. 

Many times journalists ask me what my priorities are.  I always say we have many priorities in the United Nations ‑ peace and security, human rights, and development ‑  but I would say that this is the absolute priority.

When world leaders signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change three years ago, they pledged to keep global temperature rise to well below 2ºC above pre‑industrial levels and to work to keep the increase as close as possible to 1.5ºC.

These objectives were agreed as the bare minimum to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  The commitment was universal – but we are nowhere close to where we need to be to meet these minimum targets.

Climate change is indeed running faster than we are, and we have the risk to see irreversible damage that will not be possible to recover if we don’t act very, very quickly.

According to a United Nations study, the commitments made so far by Parties to the Paris Agreement represent just one-third of what is needed.  We need to do more, and we need to do it quicker.  We need more ambition and accelerated action by 2020.  If we do not reverse the current trend of emissions by 2020, it may be impossible to meet the 1.5ºC goal.  And that is what leaders committed to do in Paris.

The effects of climate change are already upon us, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain life in the planet.  Just last year, the economic costs of climate-related disasters hit a record:  $320 billion.

We know what we need to do.  We have the resources and technologies at our disposal.

Climate action makes moral sense, it makes business sense, and it is the keystone in our efforts to achieve sustainable development that leaves no one behind.

So why is climate change faster than we are?  The only possible answer is that we still lack strong leadership to take the bold decisions needed to put our economies and societies on the path of low-carbon growth and climate-resilience.

That is why, next September, I will convene a Climate Summit to mobilize action and finance.  We will bring together countries and cities, the real economy and real politics, business, finance and civil society, to focus on the heart of the problem.  The Summit will take place one year before countries have to enhance their national climate pledges under the Paris Agreement. 

Only a significantly higher level of ambition will do – and the Summit will be an opportunity for leaders and partners to showcase their ambition. 

I also expect the Summit to demonstrate women’s leadership, and how women’s participation and empowerment is an effective tool to achieve solutions while making our societies truly inclusive.  I want us to be able to show that action has been accelerated and that countries and businesses are putting in place the policies and instruments that will achieve the transformation of the economy that we need.

I call specifically on the countries that account for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions.  In this regard, I will be reaching out to the leaders of the Group of 20, the group of countries that account for around 80 per cent of the global greenhouse emissions.

Only courageous leadership will make the goals of Paris a reality.

This means ending subsidies for fossil fuels and high-emitting agricultural practices and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate‑smart industry and agriculture.  It means closing coal plants and replacing those jobs with healthier, better alternatives so that the transformation is just, inclusive and profitable.  And it needs carbon pricing that reflects the true cost of carbon emissions – from climate risk to the health hazards of air pollution.

We need increased investments and innovation in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies across buildings, transport and industry.  And we need Governments to encourage their banks to support green financing and to encourage innovation in financial and debt instruments to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable nations such as small island states.

We must halt deforestation and address the growing impact of climate change on our oceans.  It is also essential that Governments fulfil their pledge to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 for climate action.

In this regard, I am pleased that France and Jamaica have agreed to co-chair an initiative to support a political process to meet this pledge.  I am eager to work with you to bring all these outcomes to next year’s Summit.

But before then, we need to show the world that we are truly committed to the Paris Agreement by ensuring the success of the forthcoming Conference of Parties in Katowice, Poland.  We need to come out of that meeting with a robust framework that allows countries to operationalize and implement the Paris Agreement.

The negotiations in Poland will require strong and visionary leadership from around the globe.  I count on leaders to instruct their negotiators to resolve all sticking points and insist on progress.

The time is long gone when we could afford delay.  Each day brings further evidence of the mounting existential threat of climate change to the planet.  Every day that we fail to act is a day that we step a little closer towards a fate that none of us wants ‑ a fate that will resonate through generations in the damage done to humankind and to life on Earth.

Our fate is in our hands.  Let us finally commit – together - to rise to the challenge before it is too late.

For information media. Not an official record.