Skip to main content

Big Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Unaffordable, Secretary-General Tells Petersberg Climate Dialogue, Stressing Such Investments ‘Simply Deepen Our Predicament’

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the 2021 Petersberg Climate Dialogue today:

I want to thank Chancellor [Angela] Merkel and the German Government for convening this year’s Petersberg Climate Dialogue with the United Kingdom, President of this year’s United Nations climate conference.  I strongly congratulate Germany for aiming to achieve carbon neutrality in 2045 and increase its 2030 target to cut its emissions by 65 per cent compared to 1990 levels.

Six months ahead of COP26, and still deep in the COVID-19 crisis, and after these first sessions, I would like to share with you my assessment of where we stand.  Last year was yet another unprecedented period of extreme weather and climate disasters.  Carbon dioxide concentrations again rose to a new high — 148 per cent above pre-industrial levels.  This is the highest level for 3 million years.  Three million years ago, the Earth’s temperature was as much as 3 degrees hotter and sea levels some 15 metres higher.

Last year was already 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than pre-industrial times — dangerously close to the 1.5-degree limit set by the scientific community.  Under current commitments, including the recent ones, we are still heading for a disastrous temperature rise of 2.4 degrees by the end of the century.  We stand indeed at the edge of the abyss.  But if we work together, we can avert the worst impacts of climate disruption, and use the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to steer us on a cleaner, greener path.

To address climate change, it is clear to me that we need an equal balance between mitigation and adaptation, and both backed by finance and technological support to developing countries.  This will allow both developed and developing countries to fully mobilize to reach global net-zero emissions by mid-century and build resilience to changes to come.

On mitigation, I see encouraging signs from some major economies.  Countries representing 73 per cent of emissions have committed to net-zero emissions by 2050.  But we need all countries, especially in the G20, to close the mitigation gap further by COP26.  The bottom line is that, by 2030, we must cut global emissions by 45 per cent compared to 2010 levels to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Sometimes it’s complicated to compare things, as the reference year changes from pledge to pledge, but the net result is that we will keep hope of 1.5 degrees alive.  A top priority must be to end coal use by 2030 in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries and by 2040 across the globe.  And the move from polluting to renewable energy must be a just transition, involving local governments, unions and the private sector to support affected communities and people, generating green jobs.

We can no longer afford big fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere.  Such investments simply deepen our predicament.  They are not even cost-effective.  Fossil fuels are now more expensive than renewables.  So we need the shareholders of multilateral development banks and development financial institutions to work with the management of these banks on funding a low-carbon, climate-resilient development that is aligned with the 1.5-degree goal.  I welcome countries that have pledged to end fossil fuel finance and subsidies.  It is time to put a price on carbon and to shift taxation from income to carbon.

I remain deeply worried about the lack of progress on adaptation.  Already people are dying in big numbers, farms are failing, millions face displacement.  And there is a false dichotomy that says adaptation finance can only increase at the expense of mitigation finance.  The fact is that we need both.

With reduced fiscal space, high debts and mounting climate impacts, developing countries need mitigation and adaptation finance in equal measure.  Yet adaptation finance to developing countries is a mere 21 per cent of climate finance.  This represents $16.8 billion.  Actual annual adaptation costs in the developing world alone are estimated at $70 billion, and these could rise to $300 billion by 2030.

I reiterate my call to donors and multilateral development banks to ensure that at least 50 per cent of climate finance is for adaption and resilience.  And I ask them to make concrete proposals so small island developing States and the least developed countries can access climate finance more easily than today.

The success of COP26 rests on achieving a breakthrough on adaptation and finance.  This is a matter of urgency and trust.  Developed countries must honour their long-standing promise to provide $100 billion annually for climate action in developing countries.  The upcoming G7 Summit is a pivotal moment.  I call on the leaders of the G7 to take the lead, with other developed countries following, to make substantial climate finance pledges for the coming five years.  For some, this means at least doubling their latest climate commitments.

We have six months until COP26.  We must make them count.  I encourage all ministers to start working on an ambitious and balanced political deal that supports developing countries.  And I ask all stakeholders to make sure that their plans and initiatives are ambitious, credible and verifiable.  There must be no doubt on the environmental integrity of our actions — from Article 6 negotiations to private sector net-zero commitments.

We have a small and narrow window of opportunity to do the right thing.  But our future is in our hands, and in your hands, dear friends.  Let us use the pandemic recovery and COP26 to promote a safe and sustainable future for all nations and people.  I thank you and wish you a very successful conference.

For information media. Not an official record.