Tax Pollution, Not People, Secretary-General Says at R20 Austrian World Summit, Stressing Continued Subsidization of Fossil Fuels Will Destroy Planet
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the R20 Austrian World Summit, in Vienna today:
I am pleased to be with you once again to discuss our collective response to the climate crisis. And I thank Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger and the R20 coalition for placing focus on the importance of subnational actors for successful climate action.
I have just returned from a trip to the South Pacific where I visited, among others, Tuvalu — a low-lying island nation that faces inundation from rising seas.
I was profoundly impressed and profoundly moved. It is clear to me that we have no time to waste. All around the world, people are now losing their homes and being forced to migrate because of climate change. Sea level is rising. Floods. Drought. Wildfires. Extreme storms appear everywhere. Rarely a day goes by without a new disaster highlighting the perils of a warming world.
Climate disruption is upon us, and it is progressing faster than our efforts to address it. That is why coalitions such as yours are so important. Because you recognize the emergency, and you are acting on it. The situation is extremely serious.
But, there is a silver lining to the looming cloud. For, if we do what we must to combat climate change, the benefits for societies around the world would be profound. Cleaner water and air. Less pollution. More chemical-free agriculture. Reduced biodiversity loss.
What is needed for effective mitigation and improved resilience is quite simply a rapid and deep change in how we do business, how we generate power, how we build cities and how we feed the world. We need a post-carbon economy and a post-carbon society, a climate-smart development pathway that can provide inclusive prosperity for all on a healthy planet.
I know we can do this — provided we have the political will. And that is the reason why I am convening a Climate Action Summit this September in New York. I am asking leaders not to come with beautiful speeches, but to come with concrete plans to promote the climate action we need.
My goal for the Summit is to showcase a leap in national and collective political ambition. I want it to demonstrate that Governments and key civil society players and businesses have credible plans for a resilient net‑zero‑emission economy by mid-century.
I want the world to pull together to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C and fulfil the promise of the Paris Agreement.
The R20 coalition has a massive role to play. Climate action at the subnational level is key to addressing the climate crisis, not only because subnational governments are the closest to the people, but also because regions and cities are the main engines of the world economy. You can send a clear message to people and to national Governments that there is no viable high-carbon growth story in the twenty-first century.
We need to tax pollution, not people, and to end subsidies for fossil fuels. The story of subsidies for fossil fuels is not usually well-described. Many people still think that to give fossil fuels subsidies is a way to improve living conditions of people.
There is nothing more wrong than that. What we are doing is using taxpayers’ money — which means our money — to boost hurricanes, to spread droughts, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals. In one word — to destroy the world.
As taxpayers, I believe we would like to see our money back rather than to see our money used to destroy the world.
We need to decarbonize urban infrastructure, especially transport and buildings, and stop building new coal plants that poison the air we breathe. We need to promote sustainable consumption and production and support climate-smart agriculture that depends on nature-based solutions, not chemical inputs. And we need to strengthen the resilience of regions and cities to climate impacts.
In short, we need a green economy, not a grey economy; to have a green society, not a grey society. We need the economy of the future, not the economy of the past.
And that is why it will be so important for Governments to present by 2020 new national determined contributions, national engagements for climate action, much more ambitious than the ones that were presented in Paris. Let us be clear that, even if the engagements assumed in Paris are fully met, we will still be at the end of the century with more than 3°C increase in temperature, which means a catastrophic situation.
But, even more serious than that, today, many of the countries that in Paris promised to do a number of things are not even catching up with their own promises. So, we are doing less than what we already know would not be enough in relation to the engagements that were made in Paris.
We need you to be in the vanguard of making the changes we need. I count on you to come to my Climate Summit prepared to inspire the world with your actions and your plans and influence your own Governments. I hope the Climate Action Summit will also help empower you to deliver on your plans, including through generating the finance you need.
Indeed, financing is critical. That is why I have enlisted the President of France, the Prime Minister of Jamaica and the Emir of Qatar in a high-level political effort, in the run-up to the Climate Summit, to mobilize international support for the funding we need. That means reaching the goal, determined in Paris, of $100 billion per year, from public and private sources in developed countries, to advance mitigation and adaptation in the developing world. And it means a full replenishment and an effective functioning of the Green Climate Fund.
I ask all investors to stop financing pollution, to scale up green ventures and to increase lending for low-carbon solutions.
It is essential that the private sector and the investment community are fully mobilized in support of a bold and ambitious climate agenda. We all need to make the case that green, sustainable growth is the only viable pathway for a secure and prosperous future for all.
I thank you all for your commitment in this time of crisis. Let us show the world that climate action is good for the people, is good for the planet, and if you are smart, it can also be good for business.