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

Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ press conference to launch the “State of the Global Climate 2020” report, with World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, held in New York today:

Welcome, all the members of the press.

This is a frightening report.  It needs to be read by all leaders and decision-makers in the world.

2020 was an unprecedented year for people and the planet.  It was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  But this report shows that 2020 was also another unprecedented year of extreme weather and climate disasters.

The cause is clear.  Anthropogenic climate change — climate disruption caused by human activities, human decisions and human folly.  The effects are disastrous.  The data in this report should alarm us all.  2020 was 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than pre-industrial times.  We are getting dangerously close to the 1.5-degree Celsius limit that was set by the scientific community.  We are on the verge of the abyss.

The six years since 2015 have been the hottest on record.  In June, temperatures reached 38 °Celsius at Verkhoyansk in Russia, the highest recorded temperature anywhere north of the Arctic Circle.

Concentrations of the major greenhouse gases continued to climb.  Carbon dioxide concentrations rose to a new high — 410.5 parts per million.  That is a 148 per cent increase above pre-industrial levels.

The number of tropical cyclones globally was above average in 2020.  There were 98 named tropical storms.  This was mostly driven by high activity in the North Atlantic, which had more than double the long-term average and an absolute record.

Widespread drought in the United States drove the largest wildfires ever recorded in California and Colorado.  In Brazil, drought fuelled serious wildfires in the Pantanal wetlands.

In the Arctic, the annual minimum sea-ice extent in September 2020 was the second lowest on record.  The Greenland ice sheet lost 152 billion metric tons of ice from September 2019 to August 2020.  Antarctica’s loss of ice also increased.  And consequently, the rate of sea-level rise is accelerating.

Now, our challenge is clear.  To avert the worst impacts of climate change, science tells us that we must limit global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees of the pre-industrial baseline.  That means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

We are way off track.

This must be the year for action — the “make it or break it” year.  There are a number of concrete advances I expect before COP26 in Glasgow this November.

First, we must agree to a common direction of travel.  The United Nations has been pushing for a global coalition committed to net-zero emissions — to cover all countries, cities, regions, businesses and financial institutions.

Second, the next 10 years need to be a decade of transformation.  Countries need to submit ambitious new nationally determined contributions that were designed by the Paris Agreement.  Their climate plans for the next 10 years must be much more efficient.

Third, we need those commitments and plans to be backed up with concrete immediate action.  The trillions of dollars spent on COVID-19 recovery must be aligned with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Subsidies to polluting fossil fuels must be shifted to renewable energy.  And developed countries must lead in phasing out coal — by 2030 in OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries, and 2040 elsewhere.  No new coal power plants should be built.

Countries should also work to ensure a just transition where opportunities outweigh jobs lost.  According to the International Labour Organization, 25 million jobs can be created in a green transition with only 7 million lost.

Developed countries also need to deliver on climate finance for the developing world, particularly the promise of $100 billion per year.  Half of all climate finance from donors and multilateral and national development banks must flow to resilience and adaptation, from a much lower level of 20 per cent today.  This is necessary to protect our societies from the disastrous weather and climate events that are here to stay.

Access to these sources of finance must also be made easier for the most vulnerable.  As we know, populations that are hit the hardest by the impacts of climate change also suffer more from other vulnerabilities.  The increase in food insecurity since 2014 is being driven by conflict, economic slowdown as well as climate change.  Twelve out of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate impacts were in conflict.

Finally, we need radical changes from all financial institutions, public and private, to ensure that they fund sustainable and resilient development for all and move away from a grey and inequitable economy.  I count first on developed countries to deliver on climate finance and, as I mentioned, the promised $100 billion a year at the G7 Summit in June.  Then, I will urge the G20 countries to take on the greening of the broader financial architecture, to address debt and make climate-related financial disclosure mandatory.

This is truly a pivotal year for humanity’s future.  This report shows we have no time to waste.  Climate disruption is here.  I urge everyone to take the message of this report to heart.  Let us all commit to act to stabilize our climate and to end our war on nature.

Thank you.

[Professor Taalas’ remarks.]

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General:  Great.  Thank you very much.  First question, James Bays, Al Jazeera.

Question:  Secretaries-General, I will, hopefully, get a question to the Secretary-General of the WMO a little later, but Secretary-General of the UN, I would like to turn to the politics of this.  We’ve seen a joint statement from China and the US in recent days on climate action.  And in a few days’ time, we have the Earth Day Summit being organized by the US.  How important is it that countries that take part in that deliver action rather than just words?

Secretary-General:  First of all, the China-US cooperation is vital.  It was vital for the Paris Agreement.  It remains vital today, together with other important partners.  I mean, all the big emitters are members of the G20, and obviously, the G20 is an important forum where they need to come together, and we need to make sure that there are very ambitious commitments.

We see this Summit that will take place this week as an opportunity for a number of countries that have not yet announced what their nationally determined contributions will be or what their increased ambition will be to take profit of the Summit to do so.  Obviously, whatever the United States will be able to say, whatever other countries will be able to say will be vital.

And when we look at the Glasgow COP, when we look at the objectives we need to achieve, which means drastic reduction of emissions until 2040 to get net-zero [emissions] in 2050, it is clear that we must find an equilibrium with three components:  ambitious targets for emissions reduction, the mitigation components but, at the same time, looking at developing countries, they already have huge needs in relation to adaptation resilience; and so, the developed world needs to be able to create the conditions for climate finance to be at least 50 per cent for adaptation, which means a strong solidarity with the Caribbean, with Africa, with South Asia, with the areas where climate change is now having dramatic impacts on populations.

And then the third component is finance.  I mean, if we want emerging economies to be able to achieve the same results as developed countries in relation to the level of reductions, there must be a massive solidarity with the Global South, which means, first of all, the 100 billion must be met, and other forms of mobilization of both public and private and blended finance will need to be mobilized.

Now, it is the equilibrium of these three components that can allow us to have the success in Glasgow, which is to come out of Glasgow, not only with commitments to reduce greenhouse gases in a way that is compatible with the objective that I mentioned, 45 per cent reduction in 2030 in relation to 2010 levels as an average in the world, but at the same time, we come out of Glasgow with strong commitments on adaptation and finance that balance the interests of the developed and developing countries and reach an agreement on article 6 to create a global carbon market and article 13.

It is possible, but it needs compromise.  It needs to come together.  Developed countries need to understand the needs of developing countries to be able to achieve the same ambitious targets in mitigation, expressing solidarity with them in adaptation and finance.

Spokesman:  Toby Burns, NHK.

Question:  Thank you very much, Secretary-General.  My question is about fossil fuels, and it’s for both the Secretaries-General.  The global carbon market, is this something that we need to see come to fruition in the immediate future? Is… and do you think that it’s a reality, a political potentiality that we could see as a point of agreement between the world’s major emitters?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, I’ve seen the negotiations in Katowice.  I’ve seen the negotiations in Madrid.  In Katowice, we managed to come to a consensus on the rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement except, namely, in relation to the carbon market — to article 6.

It is my belief that an agreement is possible.  That agreement needs to take into account the legitimate concerns of developing countries, but I feel it is perfectly possible to combine, taking into account those concerns and the principle of common and differentiated responsibilities according to national capabilities; but, at the same time, very ambitious targets in order to make sure that we have a carbon market that is not, I would say, climate washing — I mean, that is, indeed, demanding with the objective of reducing emissions.

So, I think it is possible, but it requires a commitment from all sides, on one hand, United States, European Union, Japan; on the other hand, Brazil, China, India, the BASICs.  I think the agreement is possible, but it requires a serious spirit of compromise.

And obviously, one of the key elements in relation to this is in relation to fossil fuels.  Of course, all fossil fuels contribute to climate change, but coal is the worst, and so our absolute priority now is in relation to coal to make sure that there are no more coal power plants, that no more international finance for coal and that, at the same time, we are able to phase out coal in 2030 entirely in the OECD countries and, in 2024, all countries of the world and, at the same time, to end subsidies to all fossil fuels in order to progressively have a similar objective in relation to other fossil fuels.

But it is clear that we need to have a just transition.  It is clear that, again, we need to have the mechanisms of solidarity with developing countries that allow that to be possible.  If we see countries that are largely dependent on coal, they need to have support in order to be able to do the shift from coal to renewable energy.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Professor Taalas, did you want to add something?

WMO Secretary-General:  I think that we have seen fairly promising news from European Union countries where they have been setting a price for the carbon emissions, and this has been pushing the [inaudible] of coal fire into the right direction, but this has to happen globally.  And at the moment, it’s fairly attractive to invest in solar and wind energy, and that’s also good news.

But we may also need nuclear energy as part of the palette in countries like China, where they have… there’s a last demand of basic energy.  But the means exist, and also the economic means for that transition exist.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Thank you.  Seth Borenstein, Associated Press.  Seth?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you.  This is for Secretary-General Guterres.  You talked about what needs to come out of Glasgow.  What is the minimum you need to come out of this week in virtual Summit?  And how will the fact that it’s all virtual, it’s all live streamed with no backroom talk, no one-on-ones that are behind the scenes, at this point, how will that affect getting anything more from this week’s Summit?  Or is… so, in other words, what are you looking for from this week’s Summit?  And will the way it’s done affect that?

Secretary-General:  Well, my hope is that, in this week’s Summit, a number of countries, the most important countries in relation to climate change, will be able to commit to net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by the middle of the century and to commit to a drastic reduction of emissions for the next decade in the context of the review of their nationally determined contributions.  And this is very important in this Summit.

On top of that, we need to move on with the process of negotiation that will be virtual before Glasgow but that will be in presence in Glasgow to allow for the political settlement of the pending issues that will come to Glasgow, but I think that it is perfectly possible during this year, using the instruments that are at our disposal, and the UN system everywhere will be supporting countries to make sure that there is full access to the virtual instruments that are necessary for the negotiation, I think it is perfectly possible to create the conditions to have a successful COP in Glasgow.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  One last question for the Secretary-General.  Jayashree Nandi, Hindustan Times.

Question:  So, I wanted to ask you, how can the concept of net-zero emissions targets by 2050 reconcile with the principle of CBDR?  How can the net-zero target reconcile with the concept of CBDR — common but differentiated responsibilities? And are you expecting developing countries to also commit to these targets?

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, I said that we need to have an agreement based on three different dimensions:  First, very ambitious targets on mitigation, namely, to get to net zero in the middle of the century.  Second, a very strong support to adaptation, namely in the developing countries.  And third, a large effort of solidarity of developed countries with developing countries in finance and technology to allow developing countries to take profit of what is today the reality of technology in the economy.

Today, it is cheaper to produce electricity with renewables than in fossil fuels, and it’s a risk to have developing countries still investing in coal power plants that will be soon stranded assets.  We have more and more situations in the world — I believe it’s already the case in countries like India and China — in which it is cheaper to create a new solar power plant than just to keep running several of the coal power plants that exist.

So, the economy is on our side; the technology is on our side, but we need the solidarity of developed countries with the developing world to allow, through the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and taking profit of the national capabilities, to allow exactly for this compromise to be possible.  I believe it is possible.  It requires commitment.  It requires a vision of solidarity, and it requires the understanding that the developed world need not only to reduce their emissions that traditionally were the ones that created more… impacted on climate change, but they need to support developing countries to do the same.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  So, we have to let Secretary-General Guterres go because he’s already late for his next meeting, but I will open it up to the floor for Secretary-General Taalas.

For information media. Not an official record.