Press Conference by Secretary-General António Guterres at United Nations Headquarters

Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at a press conference at the launch of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2018, with General Assembly President, María Fernanda Espinosa and WMO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas, held in New York today:

Ladies and gentlemen of the media.  Thank you very much for your presence.

I have to say that, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am very proud of the work of the World Meteorological Organization.  It provides a very solid, scientific base for the analysis that is absolutely essential in relation to how climate change is evolving, and as a clear guide to our actions in the future.  I am very grateful for the work that, once again, was done this year.

Climate change continues to accelerate, and reading the report, three things stand out.

First, we are seeing record highs in land and ocean temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse gas concentrations.

Second, we are seeing, more and more, the dramatic impact of extreme weather conditions.  Last year, in the United States alone, we saw 14 weather- and climate-related disasters where the devastation cost more than $1 billion each, with a total of some $49 billion.  Worldwide, more than 35 million people were affected by floods.  Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa is a particularly stark recent example, as it was demonstrated.

Third, the impact on public health is escalating.  The average number of people exposed to heatwaves has increased by some 125 million since the beginning of the century, with deadly consequences.  The combination of extreme heat and air pollution is proving increasingly dangerous, especially as heatwaves will become longer, more intense and more frequent.

So, this report is indeed another strong wake up call.  It proves what we have been saying that climate change is moving faster than our efforts to address it.  That is the reason of a climate action summit that we will have here in New York on 23 September.

It is important that we tackle climate change with much greater ambition.  I am telling leaders:  “Don’t come with a speech; come with a plan.”  I am calling on them to come to the summit with concrete, realistic plans to put us on a sustainable path, once and for all.  That means enhancing nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement [on climate change] by 2020 and showing how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade and get to net zero emissions globally by 2050.  If not, it will be irreversible, not to be able to achieve the goals that were established in Paris.  We are very close to the moment in which it will no longer be possible to come to the end of the century with only 1.5°C .  We have very few years to reverse these trends, because the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere will not disappear.  And so, we are getting close to the moment in which, irreversibly, will be much worse than the scenario that was described by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] IPCC.

This is what science says is needed.  It is what young people around the globe are now rightfully demanding.  I want the summit to demonstrate the benefits of climate action and how everyone can benefit.

A growing number of Governments, cities and businesses, it is true, are already understand that climate solutions can strengthen our economies, improve air quality and public health and protect our environment.  We expect initiatives in a diversity of sectors, such as energy, sustainable agriculture, forests, oceans and resilience to climate impacts.  And I hope it will also highlight the importance of gender diversity in all decision making.  And it will emphasize the importance of a just transition – where no one is left disadvantaged by necessary climate action.

These are the only ways we can ensure no one is left behind by the transformation that we need.  It is clear that a transformation is under way, but it clear that it is not as quick as needed.  New technologies are already delivering energy at a lower cost than the fossil-fuel driven economy.  Solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest sources of new power in virtually all major economies.

So, we can and must accelerate this transition.  This means ending subsidies for fossil fuels and high-emitting, unsustainable agriculture and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices.  It means carbon pricing that reflects the true cost of emissions, from climate risk to the health hazards of air pollution.  And it means accelerating the closure of coal plants, halting plans for new ones, and replacing those jobs with healthier alternatives, so the transformation is just, inclusive and profitable.

The coming years will see vast investment in infrastructure around the world.  We must ensure that this infrastructure will be sustainable and climate-friendly.  If not, we will be locked into a runaway climate change.  By doing so, we can avert the threat of irreversible climate disruption and march far down the road to realizing the 2030 Agenda.

Thank you.

Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General:  Thanks very much.  We’ll now open up the floor for questions.  I believe the Secretary‑General and the President of the General Assembly will have to be departing shortly.  So, the first few questions should be directed to them before they need to go.  And then Professor Taalas will continue to be here and be available for questions.  So, first question goes to UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association) to Valeria Robecco of ANSA.  Valeria?

Question:  Thank you… thank you for your time and for this very important press conference.  My question is for the Secretary‑General.  Secretary‑General, what is now the real support of the United States and China to the fights against climate change?  With the [Donald] Trump Administration, there is a complete closure, or you can see some margins of… for working together and the same for China?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I think there are areas of air pollution in which it is possible to work together, even with United States Administration, but we know the position of the United States Administration in relation to climate change as a whole.  But, we should not underestimate the impact of the action of cities, businesses, and even States that are assuming leadership in making sure that, even in the United States, there is a very strong commitment to climate change.  Now, in China, there is now a very clear public statement of their commitment to climate change, and they were very constructive in the Katowice meeting.  And we are hoping that China… where there is still lots of problems, obviously; we are hoping that China will come to the summit and then to the 2020 with very strong concrete commitments in relation to the reduction of emissions.

Deputy Spokesman:  Sebastien.  Yeah, pick up your…

Question:  Thank you for your patience.  Hi, Sebastien Malo with Thomson Reuters.  My question is for the Secretary‑General.  The report speaks of the United States… speaks of economic losses on a global scale, and it mentions that the highest losses affecting the United States was resulting from two significant hurricane landfalls, Florence and Michael, where a total loss estimate estimated at nearly $50 billion.  So, it puts the United States as the country most affected by extreme weather or natural disasters.  And I wonder if you could tell me what this says to the United States, what kind of message this sends, given the current political climate.

Secretary-General:  The message is clear.  Climate change will have a global impact, but the negative impact of climate change in some regions of the world, and namely the United States, is already substantial and will become more and more relevant, unless we are able to globally reverse the trend.  Obviously, we can estimate that, in a developed economy, when storms strike, there is potentially a higher volume of assets that can be impacted.  But, on the other hand, let’s not forget that developed economies also are more resilient and have more capacity to resist these kinds of disasters.  So, obviously, the number of casualties, for example, is much more dramatic when we look at the recent situation in Mozambique, because, obviously, those countries are much less equipped.  They have done much less in relation to their adaptation capacity to the impacts of climate change.

Deputy Spokesman:  Celia.

Question:  Thank you, Secretary‑General.  This question is for you.  One of the major concerns, especially for people in, like, Central America, South America, with the rising of the temperatures is how it affects their agriculture and how that promotes actually the movement and migration of a lot of the people, because they have droughts and they have other problems.  Would you think that it will be ‑‑ and it has been talked about ‑‑ that this is being treated as a national security problem for many of the countries, because it generates other issues like migration, economic instability and even other issues in terms of security?

Secretary-General:  More than [inaudible], I think that there is a clear link between climate change and security.  There has been a number of important initiatives in this regard, and I fully subscribe to this.  It is clear that natural disasters, on one hand, the southern natural disasters, but especially the slow onset in… for instance, desertification is progressing with droughts that are becoming more frequent, more intense, these kinds of disasters are causing massive displacement, and this displacement will inevitably increase migration flows.  And, at the same time, impacting on productivity and agriculture, it will make hunger much more risky and it will create factors of social instability.  There are, by the way, very interesting analyses when we look at history about the links between weather evolutions and political issues.  I recommend some interesting analyses about the weather evolution before the French Revolution and some analyses, very interesting analyses, about the impacts of droughts in relation to the Arab Spring.  I’m not saying that this means that there was climate change in all these circumstances.  There have been, of course, different.  But, it is clear that there is a link, a very clear link, between climate and security, between climate and stability, between climate and well‑being of populations.

Deputy Spokesman:  I think we have time for one more question before the Secretary‑General and the General Assembly President need to leave.  Majeed.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Thank you very much.  This is Majeed Gly from Rudaw Media Network.  Mr. Secretary‑General, I want to ask about one of the most underreported issues is the impact of climate change on the conflict zones and in the Middle East in general.  And you spoke about Arab Spring just right now, how it’s… researchers think it’s one of the roots of the cause of instability, especially in Syria.  As we speak, there’s major floods right now happening in Iran, Kurdistan and Iraq.  I wanted to ask you, is there any plan by the United Nations, which is already very involved, to deal with more urgent issues in the area, to help local Government, to help authorities in those areas, with regard to climate change impact?  And do you still believe that more developed countries, more industrial richer countries, are responsible to help those countries, underdeveloped countries, to deal with the impacts… devastating impacts of climate change?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Especially when discussing financing for climate change, we have been insisting that that financing needs to address not only mitigation, but adaptation, which means we need to support especially the developing countries that are more fragile, small‑island developing States, landlocked States in which drought is more dangerous.  It is absolutely essential that a meaningful part of the financial support goes to adaptation.  And I recognize, for instance, the wisdom of the World Bank that has allocated now $400 billion for the next five years, all for adaptation and all for mitigation.  So, adaptation is clearly a priority for us, too, not only mitigation.  And, on the other hand, it is clear that there is a responsibility of the global North, and that is the reason why we are fighting hard.  It is one of the areas covered by the summit - to make sure that the $100 billion that were committed both by the public and private sectors to support the developing world yearly after 2020 materializes, because that is absolutely crucial, and that is why we have been very strongly insisting for the needs to replenish the Green Climate Fund.

Deputy Spokesman:  And, with that, I would like to thank the Secretary‑General and the President of the General Assembly for their participation.

For information media. Not an official record.