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 on the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) State of the Climate 2019 report, with WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, held in New York today:

Thank you, Professor Taalas.

The indications are crystal clear.  Global heating is accelerating.  2019 was the second hottest year on record, with the past decade the hottest in human history.

Greenhouse‑gas concentrations are at the highest levels in 3 million years — when the Earth’s temperature was as much as 3°C hotter and sea levels some 15 metres higher.  Ocean heat is at a record level, with temperatures rising at the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs a second.

We count the cost in human lives and livelihoods as droughts, wildfires, floods and extreme storms take their deadly toll.

We have no time to lose if we are to avert climate catastrophe.  This is a pivotal year for how we address the climate emergency.  We have to aim high at the next climate conference in Glasgow in November.

We need all countries to demonstrate that we can achieve emissions reductions of 45 per cent from 2010 levels this decade, and that we will reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.

We know this is the only way to limit global heating to 1.5°C.

In Glasgow, success will depend on countries, the private sector and civil society demonstrating that they are taking significant steps to raise ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance.

I see four main priorities for COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change].

First, national climate plans — the nationally determined contributions, as they are called — must show more ambition.  Even if countries fully implement their existing plans under the Paris Agreement, and many are not doing so, we will still be on course to reach 3°C of heating this century.

Revised NDCs — nationally determined contributions — must set clear targets for 2025 or 2030 that will help us stick to the 1.5°C limit.

Second, all nations need to adopt strategies to reach net‑zero emissions by 2050.  So far, 70 countries have announced that they are committed to carbon neutrality by 2050.  Many other constituencies are doing the same, such as cities, banks and businesses.

But this still only represents less than a quarter of global emissions.  The largest emitters must commit, or our efforts will be in vain.

The third priority is for a robust package of programmes, projects and initiatives that will help communities and nations adapt to climate disruption and build resilience.

Let us have no illusions.  Climate change is already causing calamity, and more is to come.  Supporting investment in adaptation in developing countries is a political and moral imperative.

The fourth priority is finance.  By COP26, developed countries must deliver on their commitment to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020.  Investments in renewables and green technologies must increase.  We need to end the vast and wasteful subsidies for fossil fuels, which actually increased last year.

And we need to put a price on carbon and see a commitment to end the construction of new coal power plants.  It’s time to end our addiction to coal.

Ultimately, COP26 needs to demonstrate that the world is moving quickly in the right direction.

I count on the [United Kingdom] COP26 presidency, on Member States, and on the full constellation of partners, including cities, the private sector, finance institutions, and the philanthropic community and civil society to commit to meaningful climate action before it is too late.  Thank you.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.  Valeria?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Thank you.  Thank you, both, for this press conference.  Secretary-General, it's always a pleasure to see you here.  Valeria Robecco from ANSA Newswire.  Mr.  Secretary-General, it appears increasingly possible that the global coronavirus outbreak will cut greenhouse gas emissions this year, with more planes grounded and the international trade squeezed.  But, the fear is that the virus could complicate the challenges against climate change.  Which will be the effect on climate change as soon as the economy bounces back?  And also, the virus leads to a difficult economic situation for many countries, and it could easily drain money and the political will from climate efforts.  So, how do you plan to react to these consequences?  And if you want to speak about these consequences, too.  Thank you so much.

Secretary-General:  First of all, I think we should distinguish things.  Both the coronavirus and climate change are very serious problems.  Both require a determined response, a response by Governments, institutions like the UN, and the response by people.  And both must be defeated.  But, they are very different in nature.  One thing is a disease that we all expect to be temporary, and its impacts, we also expect to be temporary.  The other thing is climate change, which has been there for many years and which will remain with us for decades and require constant action.  So, first of all, I think we should not overestimate the fact that emissions have been reduced for some months.  We will not fight climate change with a virus.  Second, it is important that all the attention that needs to be given to fight this disease does not distract us from the need to defeat climate change, from the need to fight inequality, and from the need to address all the other problems that the world is facing.  And we will be doing our best to be effective, as UN, in support to Member States and in support to people in eliminating as quickly as possible… containing and then eliminating as quickly as possible the disease.  But, that doesn't change in anything our determination, namely, in relation to climate change and in the need to have the COP26 in Glasgow with the commitments that are necessary to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.  And at the same time, my hope is that people will be able to commit themselves to both objectives with the same strong political will.

Spokesman:  Professor Taalas, please.

WMO Secretary-General:  Thank you.  And I would like to echo what my colleague just said.  And of course, it's unfortunate we are having this virus, and of course, these casualties that we are facing.  It's a drama, and it may have a short-term negative impact on the global economy.  That's likely to happen.  But, when it comes to climate change, we are talking about very a different magnitude of a problem.  So, the economic consequences of non‑action, they will have much more massive scale than this virus.  And also, the impacts on human well‑being and human health, they will be much more massive than this short‑term problem that we are going to have with the virus.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Michelle?

Question:  Thank you.  Michelle Nichols from Reuters.  Thank you for the briefing.  Two quick questions.  We were told that this report generally confirms previous findings that have come out from the WMO.  Is there any particular new point… new piece of information that you think we should be made aware of that's in this report that hasn't been published before?  And Secretary-General, you mentioned fossil fuels.  We've just spoken about coronavirus.  Obviously, the headlines yesterday and today have been the oil price wars between Russia and Saudi Arabia.  Do you have a message to those countries in the wake of what's gone on and how this is affecting the global economy?  Do you think you should get involved to try and mediate?

Secretary-General:  That what we need is to reduce, and if possible, extinguish all subsidies to fossil fuels and to recognize that fossil fuels are one of the biggest threats that we face in relation to climate change.  And again, I'm not talking about short‑term fluctuations that take place in moments like these.  I'm talking about the trend, and the trend is that, still, subsidies to fossil fuels have been growing, and still, we have not yet the commitment to invest enough to shift the energy composition from fossil fuels to renewables.  That is our strategy.  That is our commitment.  That's what we hope to get in the COP.  The fluctuations of prices due to situations like these are, I would say, short‑term questions.  They are not our main concerns in relation to climate change.

Spokesman:  Professor Taalas, please.

WMO Secretary-General:  I think that I was showing several records that we have been breaking in my presentation.  So, this climate change clearly continues, and the impacts of climate change, they are more and more visible in many ways.  And what this… perhaps, the new thing is… are these forest fires, which are causing also lots of amounts of emissions to the atmosphere.  We have been observing them in both hemispheres, both in the Arctic, and of course, these Australian forest fires, they were, again, record breaking.  And then this warming of the oceans has led to unusual tropical storms, and the one that was [inaudible] Mozambique was the strongest observed in southern hemisphere, at least for the past 100 years.  So, this is also one of the indications of climate change.

Spokesman:  Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much for doing this briefing.  Edith Lederer from the Associated Press.  First, Mr.  Secretary-General, as long as you've been talking about climate change, you have been trying to pressure the big emitters to reduce carbon emissions, and here you are just saying that, yes, there are 70 countries, but that's less than a quarter of emissions.  What are you doing, what should everybody else be doing to get the emitters of the other three quarters to actually take action?  That seems to be a real serious issue.

Secretary-General:  Now, we have a very active Plan of Action together with the British and associated Italian presidency of the next COP in interaction with all the key emitters.  Obviously, the G20 represents 80 per cent of the emissions in the world.  And if one looks at Western Europe, North America, China, India, Russia and Japan, you have the bulk of emissions.  And it is with these countries that we'll be very actively engaged during this year in order to have as many as possible, ideally all of them, committed to carbon neutrality in 2050.  There is good news for the moment in relation to the European Union.  Let's hope that this example can be followed by all the others.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  And I think we have to let the Secretary-General go.  And then, Professor Taalas, you'll stay on…

Secretary-General:  There is one last one.

Question:  Yes, thank you.  Thank you, Mr.  Secretary-General.  My name is Ali Barada from Asharq al-Awsat newspaper and from France 24.  My question is about the UN premises and coronavirus.  There is… the coronavirus is sparking fears everywhere, and I wonder whether the… you are going to take an extra set of measures in order to try to stem any spread of coronavirus within the UN.  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Very important measures were decided mostly over the weekend and yesterday.  They have been announced today to Member States.  And they are preventive measures with the objective to prevent, and obviously, if something happens, to contain.  And we are totally committed to cooperate with the authorities of the country, the state and the city in order to be part of the effort in New York.  Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.