Corporate Leaders Should Speak Up, Act, End Greenwashing, Says Secretary-General in Remarks for Economist Impact’s Sustainability Week
Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video remarks to the Economist Impact’s eighth annual Sustainability Week, in London today:
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, let me begin by thanking the Economist for shining the spotlight on accelerating private sector action on sustainability.
Your Sustainability Week comes on the heels of a landmark synthesis report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It confirmed that global emissions are at their highest level in human history and rising. Climate chaos is wreaking havoc on economies businesses, supply chains and public finances. And we are on a trajectory for far worse.
But the IPCC also showed that we still have a window — a narrow window — to avert catastrophe. As the report highlights, we know exactly what is needed, and we have the tools. We need a quantum leap forward — with immediate and deep emissions cuts across the board.
I have proposed to the G20 [Group of 20] a Climate Solidarity Pact — in which all big emitters make extra efforts to cut emissions, and wealthier countries mobilize financial and technical resources to support emerging economies in a common effort to keep 1.5°C alive.
Last week, I presented a plan to super-charge efforts to achieve this Climate Solidarity Pact through an all-hands-on-deck Acceleration Agenda to fast-track climate action in every country, every sector and on every time frame.
G20 members together represent 80 per cent of global emissions. They must immediately hit the fast forward button on their plans to get to global net zero by 2050.
For developed countries, that means striving to reach net zero as close as possible to 2040, the limit they should all aim to respect. For emerging economies, that means striving to reach the goal as close as possible to 2050 — again, the limit they should all aim to respect. All countries must also step up their national climate action plans. A new cycle will be due in 2025.
All G20 countries must put forward economy-wide nationally determined contributions encompassing all greenhouse gases and indicating their absolute emissions cuts targets for 2035. These national climate plans must be designed like investment plans with clear short- and longer-term market signals.
Governments must lead. But, as your Sustainability Week stresses, the private sector is pivotal. Governments must put in place enabling policies and regulatory environments. These policies should include carbon pricing which provide incentives to reduce fossil fuels use and shift to renewable energy and is an essential price signal for redirecting new investments to clean technology.
And the public and private sectors must work closely together to accelerate decarbonization. These transformations are the right thing to do. They’re also the smart thing to do. They can drive investment, innovation, and far stronger and more sustainable profitability, productivity, employment and growth.
The good news is that a number of companies — headquartered in markets across Europe, North America and Asia — have accelerated their net zero targets to the 2030s and 2040s. They understand that spearheading the transition will make a huge impact in the climate fight, providing major competitive advantages for first movers.
Looking ahead, priority number one is the energy sector — by far the largest source of global emissions. Let’s be clear: real energy security or stability is a pipedream while economies remain hostage to fossil fuels. Look no further than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We know what needs to happen: no new coal.
Completely phase out coal in OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries by 2030 and 2040 elsewhere, and end all international public and private funding of coal.
Ensure net zero electricity-generation by 2035 for all developed countries and 2040 for the rest of the world. Cease all licensing or funding of new oil and gas — consistent with the findings of the International Energy Agency.
Stop any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves. Shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables and a just energy transition. Establish a global phase down of existing oil and gas production compatible with the 2050 global net-zero target.
I have urged all Governments to prepare energy transition plans consistent with these actions and ready for investors. Fossil fuel executives must become part of the solution. What specifically does this require in practice?
First, I am asking all fossil fuel CEOs to present credible, comprehensive and detailed new transition plans – fully in line with all the recommendations of my High-level Expert Group on net zero pledges.
These plans must: Cover all activities — including those up and down the value chain and which are now relatively easy to track; detail real emission cuts for 2025 and 2030 and how they will be achieved without the use of offsets; disclose all lobbying and policy engagements and activities; [and] highlight efforts to change their business models and accelerate their transition to scale up renewable energy.
Tinkering won’t do. Business models must be transformed, so that they are driving forward — not impeding — the full phase-out of fossil fuels and dramatically scaling up investments in renewable energy.
Priority number two: finance. Systemic change won’t be possible without major and immediate shifts of financial flows. I have long called for multilateral development banks to strengthen climate action, change their business model and accept a new approach to risk. They should multiply their impact by massively leveraging their funds to mobilize greater flows of private finance at reasonable cost for climate action in developing countries.
Today, I am calling on all financial institutions to publicly present credible and detailed plans to transition their funding from fossil fuels to clean energy with clear targets for 2025 and 2030.
This includes an explicit strategy for financial institutions to move decisively to strip out fossil fuel assets from their portfolios to ensure they become credibly net-zero aligned. They must identify and phase out stranded assets. For example, coal-fired energy generation — which in a growing number of markets cannot compete economically with renewable energy.
Financial institutions in all markets must also immediately end lending, underwriting, and investments in coal anywhere — including any company planning new coal infrastructure, power plants, and mines.
Phase-out policies must include a commitment to end financing and investment in exploration for new oil and gas fields, expansion of oil and gas reserves, and oil and gas production. These transition plans must showcase how capital expenditure, research and development and investments are aligned with net-zero targets. And they, too, must disclose all lobbying and policy engagement activities. The advocacy and lobbying power of the private sector should work for people and planet, not against us.
Dear friends, we need to show how coalitions of Governments and the private sector can be a force for good in all other high-emitting sectors — including aviation, steel, cement, aluminium and agriculture.
We look forward to welcoming to New York this September CEOs who are taking the kind of concrete and credible actions I just described.
Your Conference is in London — the home of shipping’s global regulator, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) — so allow me to say an extra word about the shipping sector. Emissions from the shipping sector are set to double by 2050. That must change.
This summer, IMO has an historic opportunity to adopt a revised strategy with a clear message. A strategy that clearly states: the future is zero-emission shipping by 2050 across the board — without leaving any country or trading route behind. And a strategy that will address any disproportionate negative impacts on developing countries.
IMO must agree on a new revenue-generating mechanism with proceeds invested in clean technology and infrastructure, to ensure a just and inclusive transition across this vital sector. I hope that all of you will use your influence and your networks to help us deliver a tangible and ambitious result in London this summer.
Dear friends, your discussions about speeding the shift to sustainability are vital for societies and economies everywhere. But, they are also urgently in your own interests — at a time of growing inequalities and a raging global cost-of-living crisis.
In every sense, the temperature is rising. People want action. They look at the recent mammoth fossil fuel profits with cynical disdain. Don’t allow yourselves to be collateral damage. Now, more than ever, people expect corporate leaders to speak up, act and end greenwashing. We have never been better equipped to solve the climate challenge — but we must move into high gear now. I count on you. Thank you.