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Secretary-General, at Climate Event, Calls on Business Leaders to Unite Behind Science, Invest Decisively in ‘Net-Zero’ Emissions Future

Following are UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks at the twenty‑fifth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “Caring for Climate” event, in Madrid today:

Thank you for being here in Madrid and for your commitment to climate action.  I thank the United Nations Global Compact, UNFCCC and [the] United Nations Environment [Programme] (UNEP) for convening this annual “Caring for Climate” high-level meeting.

This is an important space, in particular, for business leaders to identify key ways to participate in the race to beat the climate emergency.  Earlier this year, before the G20 Summit, asset managers representing nearly half of the world’s invested capital — some $34 trillion — wrote to the world leaders of the G20 demanding urgent climate action and calling on them to put a meaningful price on carbon and phase out fossil fuel subsidies and thermal coal power worldwide.

As we saw at the Climate Action Summit in September, the determination demonstrated by business and financial leaders offers a potential path for hope.  As businesses back away from fossil fuels, it helps send market signals to massively scale up innovative solutions.  While we thank those leaders, we urgently need more to join and shift the pace to higher gears.

The magnitude of the climate crisis is jeopardizing our future and life on the planet as we know it.  Climate change is already disrupting people, business operations, economies and ecosystems around the world.  More than ever we need Governments, regions, cities, businesses and civil society to work together towards a common goal of a more just, sustainable and prosperous world.

To limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, we need to cut greenhouse‑gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 in relation to 2010 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.  That is the only way we can hope to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

While we see some incremental steps towards sustainable business models, it is nowhere near the scope or scale required.  What we need is not an incremental approach, but a transformational approach.  And we need businesses to unite behind the science by taking rapid and ambitious action across their operations and value chains.

I am encouraged that 170 major companies have already committed to set scientific, verifiable emission reduction targets aligned with a 1.5°C future through the “Business Ambition for 1.5°C” campaign that is so clearly present here today.  By stepping up and setting science-based targets, these companies are pioneering new ways of doing business and driving systemic change throughout the global economy.  They are also sending a clear signal to consumers, investors and Governments that they intend to lead as the global economy undergoes a just transition to a net-zero future by 2050.

At the same time, the financial community is increasingly demonstrating commitment to the opportunities of a green economy.  Investors managing close to $4 trillion in assets have committed to converting their investment portfolios to net-zero emissions by 2050 through the United Nations-convened Net‑Zero Asset Owner Alliance, and the markets are shifting more and more each day.

But, business and financial actors cannot do this alone.  In 2020, many Governments will present enhanced nationally determined contributions.  We expect to see carbon neutrality strategies for 2050, and the decarbonization of key sectors, such as energy, industry, construction and transport.

In support of these efforts, I am calling on you, leaders from the private sector and civil society, to challenge your Governments to use this opportunity to make clear their economic development policies that will enable your companies to invest decisively in a net-zero future.

We are still seeing too many bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles, including perverse fossil fuel subsidies and many other expressions of Government action slowing down the private-sector commitment to climate action.  I’m meeting more and more business leaders that complain that they cannot do more because Governments will not allow them to do so because of the environment that is still created in the bureaucratic, administrative, tax regulatory and other frameworks that are under Government control.

Only through positive ambition can private and public partners successfully drive ambitious climate action, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors.  I also call on anyone who is still lobbying their Governments for a slow transition — or even in some cases no transition — to end those activities now.  The world is watching.

Shifting taxes from income to carbon, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and ending investments in and construction of coal plants by 2020 are all efforts that will benefit from bold and genuine business buy-in and support.  Millions of people around the world — especially young people — recognize that we need to act now to successfully limit the worst impacts of climate disruption.

That’s why they are calling on leaders from all sectors to do exponentially more to address the climate emergency.  We are quickly nearing our last opportunity to be on the right side of history.  Let’s make 2020 the year we put the world for a carbon-neutral future.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.