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

Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ press conference following the Climate Ambition Summit, in New York today:

At today’s Climate Ambition Summit, I appealed to leaders worldwide to declare a state of climate emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached.

There can be no doubting or denying that the world faces a climate emergency.  The past decade was the hottest on record.  Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at record levels — and rising.  Storms, fires, floods and drought of uncommon force are now all too common and devastating.

Thirty-eight countries have already declared a climate emergency.  They recognize the urgency and the stakes.  It is time for all countries to do the same.

Today’s meeting is a summit of ambition.  We requested countries to participate on the basis of concrete and ambitious commitments.  The Summit has now sent strong signals that more countries and more businesses are ready to take the bold climate action on which our future security and prosperity depend.

We are hearing from 75 countries, including my two co-hosts, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of France, and our two partners, the President of Chile and the Prime Minister of Italy.

As we look ahead, the central objective of the United Nations for 2021 is to build a truly global coalition for carbon neutrality, for global net zero emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050.

There is solid momentum behind the net zero goal.

By early next year, countries representing two thirds of global carbon dioxide emissions and 70 per cent of the world economy will have made strong commitments to carbon neutrality.

Climate vulnerable countries continue to lead the way.  Barbados and Maldives have set an ambitious aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, with the right support.  And Fiji, Malawi, Nauru and Nepal, for instance, all have 2050 firmly in their sights.

But of course, pledges are just the first step.

As we prepare for next year’s United Nations climate conference — COP26 — in Glasgow, we need concrete action right away to get on the right path.

The scientific community tells us that to reach net zero by 2050, we need to cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels.

The United Kingdom has pledged to cut emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 and to end external financing of fossil fuel projects.  The European Union has decided to cut its emissions by at least 55 per cent by the end of this decade.  These are courageous decisions that deserve to be emulated.

At least 24 countries have now announced new commitments, strategies or plans to reach net zero or carbon neutrality.

Commitments from EU countries, the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and today Argentina and the incoming US Administration are establishing a clear carbon neutrality benchmark for G20 countries.

A number of States set out how they are going even further, with ambitious dates to reach net zero:  Finland by 2035, Austria by 2040 and Sweden by 2045.  Pakistan announced no new coal power plants.

India will soon more than double its renewable energy target and China will reach, by 2030, twelve hundred gigawatts of installed wind and solar power.

Countries like Israel and Slovakia are joining the growing list of countries stepping away from fossil fuels.

Now, all countries must show ambition in the new and enhanced national determined contributions that they are obliged to submit ahead of COP26.  I am pleased to note that today, more than 40 countries commit to doing so.  And the big emitters must lead the way.

Let’s not forget, over the past decade, the G20 members accounted for 78 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Now it is time for every country, city, financial institution and company to adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050.

This transition must be just, with social protection and support for workers and others affected by decarbonization.

And developed countries must meet their commitment to provide $100 billion dollars a year to developing countries by 2020 — an effort that is lagging badly, according to a report issued yesterday by independent experts convened by the United Nations.

Banks must align their lending to the global net zero objective, and asset owners and managers must decarbonize their portfolios.

We need a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience.

And as we pursue these changes, we must recognize the importance of equity.

After all, the richest 1 per cent of the world’s people are responsible for 15 per cent of harmful emissions.  And their share is more than the double of the poorest 50 per cent’s emissions.  So 1 per cent of the population is responsible for double the emissions of the 50 per cent poorest in the world.

This is totally unacceptable.

While the pandemic has led to a decline in economic activity, any effect on emissions is only temporary and ultimately insignificant.

But the tragedy of COVID-19 has also given us an unexpected opportunity for a reset.

COVID relief and recovering investments can spur a green transition.

Policies to strengthen societies to face pandemics or other shocks can be a catalyst for sustainability.

Pandemic recovery and climate action must be two sides of the same coin.

The true test of leadership today is to show climate ambition, take climate action, mobilize climate finance, and demonstrate climate solidarity.  As we move towards COP26, I will continue to engage and convene all leaders to enlarge and further deepen our global Climate Ambition Alliance.

Thank you.

I am at your disposal for a few questions.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.

We’ll go to James Bays, Al Jazeera.

Question:  Secretary‑General, greetings from London. Can I ask you what your message is for those countries that didn’t take part in this summit today and what’s at stake if they don’t come up with new commitments before COP26?

Secretary-General:  That it is very important that they join the alliance; it’s very important that they take the right decisions — there’s plenty of time for that — that they take the right decisions, they prepare their commitments, and they join this alliance for carbon neutrality in the middle of the century.  That is an appeal that I make to every single country in the world.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Frank Jordans, Associated Press.  Frank?

Question:  Shortly before the meeting, President‑elect Joe Biden issued a statement in which he said he would rejoin the Paris Accords on day one of his presidency and that he would convene a meeting, if needed, with major [inaudible] on climate change [audio gap] of his presidency.  What signal do you think that that sends on the climate issue?

Secretary-General:  It is a very important signal, and I really welcome the fact that the new Administration decided to rejoin the Paris Agreement on the first day and, simultaneously, the… Joe Biden has announced a number of other measures.  We look forward for a very active US leadership in climate action from now on, as the US leadership is absolutely essential — the United States is the largest economy in the world — it’s absolutely essential for our goals to be reached.

Spokesman:  Thank you. Chloé Farand, Climate Home News, Chloé?

Question:  Hello.  Thank you very much for taking my question. Hope you can hear me okay.  Secretary‑General, I wanted to ask you, we haven’t heard that many new finance commitments so far today, and the finance pillar was one of the key pillars that the organizers had demanded countries bring commitments for.

So, have any countries failed to step up to the mark on providing more finance for vulnerable nations, particularly at a time where they’re needed not only for recovering to COVID‑19 but also, as the President of the Maldives said, to be able to decarbonize to net zero emissions by 2050?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, it is clear that the support to the developing world, both in liquidity and in debt relief, in relation to the COVID‑19 response and recovery, has been insufficient.  And it is also clear, at the same time, that the developed countries are still far from the objective of mobilizing $100 billion per year from public and private sources to support developing countries, both in mitigation and adaptation.

So, there is a clear need to increase both forms of mobilizing finance, and they should be interlinked.  As I said, response and recovery to COVID and climate action must be the two faces of the same coin.

On the other hand, it is important to underline that, until now, only 20 per cent of climate finance has gone to adaptation.  And we see that, for countries in developing worlds ‑‑ Small Island Developing States, look at Central American countries with the floods recently, the drought in Africa and in parts of Asia, for the risks for countries like Bangladesh relating to rising sea levels — it is clear that we must increase support to adaptation.  We must increase support to adaptation in order to allow those countries to build the resilience that is necessary for their communities to resist to the already inevitable impacts of climate change.

So, we need more resources, and we need to reorient those resources in order to have larger share of climate finance to adaptation.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Urmi Goswami from Economic Times of India.  If I could ask you to just speak slowly and very clearly.  Thank you.  Urmi?

Question:  Good evening, and thank you for doing this.  My question… not just… finance is one part of the support, but the other part being the technology.  And I’m wondering… that’s again been a gap.  And I’m wondering how that can… how do you seek to address that in the run‑up to COP26?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I think one of the most important aspects of the solidarity, at the present moment, is to make sure that technologies that are necessary for the green transition must be made available to developing countries and that to push for that, not only do we need to increase the official development assistance, but we need to use all the instruments, namely, international financial institutions, national development banks and others, to create the conditions to attract, through guarantees, through partnerships, through other forms, the private investment and the private finance that are essential for this technological transfer to be fully effective.

So, this is, I would say, an ambition in all fronts — ambition in mitigation, ambition in finance, ambition in adaptation, ambition in technology, ambition in all that is necessary for the world to be able to be carbon neutral in 2050 and for us to be able to rescue the planet of a catastrophic situation in the end of the century if things would go on as they have been in the last decades.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Pam Falk, CBS News.  Pam?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General.  With all the commitments you heard today, you listed some of them.  There was also India and others who have made commitments today.  That with… as a follow‑on on the earlier question, with the commitment of the President‑elect Joe Biden to get to net zero and rejoin the Paris climate, do you think that is enough?  Before, you’ve said, we haven’t done enough as a globe.  Do you think, with those commitments that you heard today, there is enough?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Today, there was an important step forward, but it’s not yet enough.  We still need to bring on board several big emitters.  We need, still, to be able to have a much stronger mobilization of the business community, the financial sector, the asset managers.

We are moving in this direction.  There are good signals.  I think there is a change in the mindset, but there’s still a long way to go.

Let’s not forget that we are still on track to an increase of temperature of 3° at least in the end of the century, which would be catastrophic.  So, we are in the beginning of a road.  It’s a road of hope for the moment, but we need to transform this hope into reality, and there is still a long way to go.  Let’s have no illusions.

We had very important commitments but not yet from everybody, and those commitments need to be translated into effective implementation, and this is a credibility test that we will still need to go through.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Sorry. I have no sound.

I’m not hearing anything.

Spokesman:  Oh… sorry.  Joe Klein, and then Leslie Hook.  Joe?

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary‑General, you’ve mentioned several times in your opening remarks China in a very positive vein in terms of their contributions to combatting climate change.  But according to their own stated individual nation commitment, they’re not even going to peak in their use of coal and their increase in use in emissions… of greenhouse gases until 2030.  They’re also apparently exporting coal‑powered technology.  So, could you comment on that and how that… you reconcile that with their making a positive contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I think that, in the speech to the General Assembly of the President of China in September, there were a number of commitments that represented an important progress.  They were, today, followed by another series of important commitments, namely, in relation to renewables, but it’s clear for us — and we go on insisting — there must be everywhere a commitment not to build new coal power plants.  It doesn’t make any sense to build new coal power plants.  They will become stranded assets.  Today it’s cheaper to build a solar plant from scratch than to keep going the coal power plants that we already have and that it is very important to accelerate the commitments made.

But the important thing about the Chinese commitment is that they did not say 2030 or 2060.  They said before 2030 and before 2060, and we’ll be doing our best in our dialogue, of course, with China to anticipate as much as possible these two dates.

Spokesman:  Thank you. Leslie Hook, Financial Times.

Question:  Hello.  My question is also about China, and I’d just like to ask about the decision to… for President Xi Jinping to speak first.  What was driving that timing?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I sincerely do not participate in the elaboration of any speakers’ list, so I have no idea what you are talking about.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Abdelhamid Siyam.  Abdelhamid.  And then that will have to be the last question, unfortunately.

Question:  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary‑General.  In fact, Frank took one of my questions about the [United States] return to the climate change agreement.  But I have a second question, if I may ask.

How do you feel that when there is a permanent member of the Security Council break away from consensus, when there is a territory… a disputed territory under discussion of the Security Council, break away and recognize the sovereignty of Morocco over Western Sahara when it’s not yet settled in the United Nations?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, this is not related to the Climate…

Correspondent:  I know.

Secretary-General:  …Action Summit, but as you know — and we have said it very clearly — for us, in relation to Western Sahara, everything remains as it was.  And the solution of Western Sahara does not depend on recognitions by individual States.  Depends on the implementation of Security Council resolutions, of which we are the guardians.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Maybe we’ll just end on, then, one last climate question.  Megan Rowling from Reuters.  Megan?

All right.  Megan Rowling, if you can un‑mute yourself.  Well, maybe we’ll, then, leave it… oh, Megan, are you un‑muted?  Go ahead.

Okay.  Well, sir, thank you very much, and thank you, all of you, for participating.  We’ll put out the transcript of the press conference very soon. Thank you.  Thank you, sir.

Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.  All the best and keep safe.  The COVID is growing everywhere.

For information media. Not an official record.