Press Conference by Secretary-General António Guterres at United Nations Headquarters
Following is the transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ press conference, in New York today:
Secretary-General: Good afternoon, everybody, and as Stéphane [Dujarric] just said, I met with a group of civil society climate leaders from around the world.
We are months away from the SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] and Climate Ambition Summits, with COP 28 [twenty-eighth United Nations Climate Change Conference] following soon after.
I am very worried about where the world stands on climate. Countries are far off track in meeting climate promises and commitments. I see a lack of ambition. A lack of trust. A lack of support. A lack of cooperation. And an abundance of problems around clarity and credibility.
The climate agenda is being undermined. At a time when we should be accelerating action, there is backtracking. At a time when we should be filling gaps, those gaps are growing.
Meanwhile, the human rights of climate activists are being trampled. The most vulnerable are suffering the most. Current policies are taking the world to a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century.
That spells catastrophe. Yet the collective response remains pitiful. We are hurtling towards disaster, eyes wide open — with far too many willing to bet it all on wishful thinking, unproven technologies and silver bullet solutions.
It’s time to wake up and step up. It’s time to rebuild trust based on climate justice. It’s time to accelerate the just transition to a green economy. Limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C is still possible. We must consider this as a moment of hope. But it will require carbon emissions to be cut by 45 per cent by 2030.
To help get us there, I have proposed a Climate Solidarity Pact in which all big emitters would make extra efforts to cut emissions and wealthier countries support emerging economies to do so.
And I have put forward an Acceleration Agenda to supercharge these efforts. I urge Governments to make it happen by hitting fast forward on their net zero deadlines so that developed countries commit to reaching net-zero as close as possible to 2040 and emerging economies as close as possible to 2050.
Developed countries must abide by their commitments on finance, adaptation, and loss and damage. They must also push Multilateral Development Banks to adapt their business models, skill sets, and approaches to risk in order to leverage far more private finance at reasonable cost to developing countries to allow for a massive increase in investment in renewables. That investment is the only way to achieve global energy security independent of the present unpredictable market fluctuations.
And in every country, without exception, civil society voices must be heard. They must be at the table helping to shape policy and on the ground helping to deliver change.
All of this action must be global. It must be immediate. And it must start with the polluted heart of the climate crisis: the fossil fuel industry. Let’s face facts. The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. It’s fossil fuels — period.
The solution is clear: the world must phase out fossil fuels in a just and equitable way — moving to leave oil, coal and gas in the ground where they belong and massively boosting renewable investment in a just transition.
Fossil fuel industry transition plans must be transformation plans that chart a company’s move to clean energy and away from a product incompatible with human survival. Otherwise, they are just proposals to become more efficient planet-wreckers.
Of course, we must recognize that transformations don’t happen overnight. Transition plans are precisely to provide a road map for a managed, orderly process that guarantees affordability, access and energy security.
How do we get there? Our Acceleration Agenda calls on Governments to: commit to no new coal; complete phasing out coal by 2030 in OECD countries and 2040 elsewhere; end all international coal funding — both public and private.
End licensing or funding of new oil and gas; stop the expansion of existing oil and gas reserves and support the just transition of the impacted developing countries; ensure net zero electricity generation by 2035 in developed countries and 2040 everywhere else.
Shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables and to a just energy transition; put a price on carbon; and establish a progressive global phase-out of existing oil and gas production compatible with global net zero emissions by 2050.
But the fossil fuel industry and its enablers have a special responsibility. Last year, the oil and gas industry reaped a record $4 trillion windfall in net income. Yet for every dollar it spends on oil and gas drilling and exploration, only 4 cents went to clean energy and carbon capture… combined.
Trading the future for thirty pieces of silver is immoral. The world needs the industry to apply its massive resources to drive, not obstruct, the global move from fossil fuels to renewables and reap the benefits in they themselves lead the transition.
Yet right now, the industry is not even reaching the very low operational emissions reductions targets it has set for itself. Many are running late, and most rely on dubious offsets. I call on all fossil fuel companies 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 — up and down the value chain. That must include reducing emissions from production, processing, transmission, refining, distribution and use. And they must establish clear, near-term targets that chart the business’ transition to clean energy.
Fossil fuel companies must also cease and desist influence peddling and legal threats designed to knee-cap progress. I am thinking particularly of recent attempts to subvert net zero alliances, invoking anti-trust legislation.
Governments are pivotal in setting the record straight. They must help by providing clear reassurance: collective climate action does not violate anti-trust — it upholds the public trust.
At the same time, financial institutions must encourage this transformation of the fossil fuel industry. I urge all financial institutions to present public, credible and detailed plans to transition their funding from fossil fuels to clean energy.
Again, we know that this transition will not occur overnight. These plans should contain clear targets for 2025 and 2030. They should include an explicit strategy to progressively strip out fossil fuel assets from their portfolios to ensure they become credibly net-zero aligned.
They must show how capital expenditure, research and development, and investments are aligned with net-zero targets. And they must disclose all lobbying and policy engagement activities. Financial institutions everywhere must end lending, underwriting, and investments in coal anywhere — including new coal infrastructure, power plants, and mines.
And they must commit to end financing and investment [in] exploration for new oil and gas fields, and expansion of oil and gas reserves — investing instead in the just transition in the developing world.
To those finance institutions already shifting from fossil fuels to renewables, I have a special message of hope and encouragement: do not relent in the face of attacks on progress. You are doing the right thing. Keep going.
As my discussion with civil society leaders today made clear, there is simply too much at stake for us to be silent. There is too much at risk for us to sit on the side-lines. Now must be the time for ambition and action. I look forward to welcoming first movers and doers at my Climate Ambition Summit in September. The world is watching — and the planet can’t wait.
**Questions and Answers
Spokesperson: Thank you. Valeria?
Question: Yes. Thank you, Steph. Thank you. Thank you, Secretary-General, for this press conference. On behalf of UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association), Valeria Robecco from ANSA newswire. So, my question is, only in the last few weeks, we have seen the disastrous floods in n orthern Italy, New York engulfed with the smoke from the wildfire in Canada, where the fire season is already dramatic. So, all of this is happening in a developed country, which could and should lead a shift in action on climate. So, do you think these dramatic images, these dramatic episodes could finally sound the alarm clock for more ambitious climate action? Thank you so much.
Secretary-General: I’m sincerely hopeful that public opinions will be putting more and more pressure on Governments, because now it’s public health, it’s public safety and it’s the solidity of the economy that is at stake. So, it’s not only a question of generosity, of being forward-leaning; basic interests of populations all over the world are being dramatically impacted by climate change. And this is clearly in front of the eyes of everybody. So, I’m strongly hopeful that with a public opinion that to a certain extent has been distracted by dramatic problems in relation to rising prices and to other aspects — that public opinion will become more and more concentrated on the need to put pressure on Governments to be much more ambitious on climate action and climate justice.
Spokesperson: Sherwin Bryce-Pease, South African?
Question: Secretary-General, forgive me for going a little bit off-topic on this question. President Cyril Ramaphosa is leading an African peace initiative into Kyiv as we speak and will be in Saint Petersburg this weekend. What are the tangible outcomes you seek from this initiative, if anything at all?
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, I had the opportunity to have from President Ramaphosa a description of the efforts that were going to be made, and, of course, I always encourage all efforts related to peace. It’s not for me to define what they will achieve. I think it’s important to underline that this is an important initiative based on the goodwill of a number of meaningful countries.
Question: Thank you, Steph. And thank you, Secretary-General. It’s Pamela Falk from CBS News. My question is about the Acceleration Agenda. You’re asking countries to up the commitments, the NDCs [Nationally Developed Contributions], to get to net zero faster, and to come on 20 September with energy transition plans. You’ve been sounding this alarm for a long time and you’re a negotiator. Can you tell us who’s on board, what of the major polluters – US [United States] said they sounded like they were, China sounded like they were? What countries have you spoken with? And do you think they’re going to get to that, or is the hope to at least move the ball? Thank you.
Secretary-General: I think all countries are essential in these efforts, but obviously the biggest emitters are the most important. And that means the G20 [Group of 20] countries. And that is why I made to the G20 a proposal of a climate solidarity pact. A climate solidarity pact in which both would decide to do more: developed countries and emerging economies. That is why, as you have noticed, and this is in line with the principle of common differentiated responsibilities and national capabilities — that is why I’m asking developed countries to get to net zero as close as possible to 2040. And there are countries that are already announcing 2035, so I’m not asking for the impossible. And to ask emerging economies to get to net zero as close as possible to 2050. And we have several important emerging economies that have already committed to 2050. Viet Nam, for instance, is a good example. So, I’m not asking the impossible. I’m asking what requires political will and ambition from both developed and emerging economies. And at the same time, climate justice in relation to developing countries in general.
Question: Thank you.
Spokesperson: Amelie, then Benno.
Question: Amelie Bottollier from AFP News Agency. You had strong words again against fossil fuel companies today. As we see every year, the question of phasing out or phasing down fossil fuels, the most contentious issues in the COPs [Conference of Parties] negotiations. So how worried are you for the outcome of COP 28, where the negotiations are going to be led by the president of one of the biggest oil companies? And you underlined the lack of trust of support. What do you expect from the Global Financing Pact Summit next week in Paris? Thank you.
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, this is not against fossil fuel companies. On the contrary, I encourage fossil fuel companies that are now having massive profits to use that profits and to lead the investments in renewables and in the green economy. That would mean that they would be able to survive the transition and remain very important and relevant actors in world economy. What I think doesn’t make any sense is to bet on more and more fossil fuel, is to use the profits just for shareholder value and not to seize this opportunity with their technology, their capacity and their resources to be themselves leaders in the development of renewable energy. And this is what for me is also essential in the COP, is to make sure that those that are more linked to the sectors that have benefitted from the economy of the past recognize how important it is to be leaders in the creation of the economy of the future.
Spokesperson: Thank you. Benno, and then Yvonne.
Question: Thank you, Secretary-General. I am Benno Schwinghammer with the German Press Agency. You just said far too many are willing to bet on unproven technologies. But I wonder how big are your own hopes that technologies like AI, artificial intelligence, could mean a quantum leap in the fight against the climate crisis?
Secretary-General: I think we all must invest in new technologies and create as much as possible opportunities for the use of new technologies in relation to climate action. What I don’t think is fair is to abdicate in relation to the need to act now in the reduction of emissions, based on the idea that maybe one day there will be something that will rescue us. It is very important to invest. I mentioned carbon capture. But we all know the limitations of carbon capture, but it’s very important to invest in all fronts in order to win the battle of climate action. But what would not be acceptable is not to do the right thing today based on the hope that someone will come and rescue us tomorrow.
Spokesperson: Yvonne, then Dezhi.
Question: Thank you, Secretary-General. Yvonne Murray from RTE News Ireland. My question is, in your speech, you said the human rights of climate activists are being trampled on. Do you agree with the direct action of some of the newer environmental groups? For example, Just Stop Oil is one that I would point to that recently threw tomato soup on a masterpiece of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Do you agree with that kind of direct action, those tactics, because these groups have exactly the same message that you’re conveying today?
Secretary-General: No. Let’s be clear. I agree with all forms of peaceful demonstration and peaceful expression of the needs to have a much more effective climate action. I disagree with any violent form. And I appeal to the security forces to show the necessary restraint to avoid any provocation to transform a peaceful demonstration in [to] a regrettable incident.
Spokesperson: Dezhi, and then we’ll go online.
Question: Dezhi Xu with China Central Television. Secretary-General…
Question: Dezhi Xu with China Central Television. Secretary-General, with all due respect, you’ve gave us this wake-up calls many times. You just laid out this Climate Solidarity Pact and Acceleration Agenda. And you said it’s possible to achieve. But here’s the thing. It’s possible to achieve what else? What tools do you have to persuade those countries to unite and to act and not to really politicizing climate issue as a tool against each other? Thank you.
Secretary-General: Well, I’ve said many times and namely when we talk about the key interlocutors, US and China or the G20 countries, this is time for a Climate Solidarity Pact, because we need all of them onboard. There is no way we can win this battle if they are at odds with each other on climate. It’s absolutely essential to have everybody onboard. And that is why I presented the Acceleration Agenda. And the Acceleration Agenda is asking developed countries to speed their efforts and to get to net zero as close as possible to 2040. And the emerging economies, like China, to speed their efforts and to be as close as possible to 2050. And I remind you that President Xi Jinping said that China would reach net zero before 2060. So if it is before 2060, it could be as close as possible to 2050.
Question: So, do you think you can persuade them to do so?
Question: Do you think you can persuade them to do so?
Secretary-General: Well, if you look at the enormous investment China is making in the renewable energies, you see an enormous potential. I think there is a serious question still with coal that needs to be addressed in China and in many other parts of the world. But I think that I have a lot of confidence in the capacity of countries with high technological experience to be able to achieve the goals that we have suggested.
Spokesperson: Great. We’ll go to Frank Jordans online from the AP. Frank?
Question: Good afternoon. Thank you very much. Following on from Amelie’s question, lawmakers in the US and Europe recently asked you to intervene to stop an oil company CEO chairing the COP 28 talks. I know that’s not within your power, but do you feel it’s time to create a strong firewall between fossil fuel interests and the UN process, and how can that be done?
Secretary-General: Well, my appeal is not about people. It’s about substance, it’s about solutions and it is about the hope we have in making things happen positively. But if you allow me a comment that has nothing to do with my experience as Secretary-General or at my present position but has to do with my times in politics: What I learned in politics was that sometimes, some of the most daring progressive reforms were done by conservatives or so-called conservatives, and some of the most daring conservative changes were done by so-called progressives. [laughs]
Question: Thank you.
Spokesperson: We’ll go to Sarah Schonhardt from Energy and Environment. Sarah?
Question: Hi. Thank you. It sort of follows on Frank’s question. I understand the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] is going to be rolling out some rules to try and make the process around the climate talks more transparent. How much do you think that matters? Do you think that’s an important initiative? And can the UN system try and sort of make these actions that you’re calling for more possible by sort of actively incentivizing them in ways like this?
Secretary-General: Well, I think, obviously, there is a role to be played by UNFCCC. There is, of course, an important moment in the COPs. But this has to do essentially with the political will of Governments and with the intelligent strategy of the business community, of course, with the support and mobilization of the civil society. So, it’s not a bureaucratic question. It’s a question of political will of those that have the power to change. And my appeal is to those that have the power to change. We can improve the different methodologies. We can make things happen in a more effective way. But the central question is a question of political will and also will in the context of the leaders of the business community.
Spokesperson: Thank you. Michelle Nichols, Reuters?
Question: Thank you, Secretary-General. A follow on from Sherwin’s question on the visit by the African leaders to…
Secretary-General: On the… sorry?
Question: The visit by the African leaders to Russia. President Putin said he’s going to discuss the future of the Black Sea grain deal with them. What is your hope that the African leaders will tell President Putin about the grain deal? Do you believe that they’re aligned with the UN on the importance of this grain deal? And then you mentioned the importance in relation to climate of the US-China relationship. Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken is about to travel to Beijing. How closely are you watching this trip? Can you describe for us the importance of this relationship? And what you would like to see come out of this visit?
Secretary-General: Well, first of all, of course, I hope that in the conversations between President Putin and the African leaders, there is a positive outcome in relation to the Black Sea Initiative as well as in relation to the efforts that we are making for the exports of Russian food and fertilizers. Looking into the second question, there is no way we can solve the climate problem that we face if China and US will be at odds with each other in relation to climate. So, it’s absolutely vital that the two countries have a common strategy on this. And if Secretary Blinken is going to Beijing, I hope that the visit will contribute to make it possible.
Spokesperson: Thank you. Maryam?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Thank you, Secretary-General. You talked about political will a lot. This is Maryam Rahmati, Iran International.
Question: Maryam Rahmati, Iran International. You talked about political will. I have a question about what options do people have in countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran, which are not part of the Paris Agreement [on climate change], when faced with significant indications of climate change?
Secretary-General: Well, as I mentioned, I was a strong supporter of the phase-out of fossil fuel industry, but I said in an equitable and just way. And obviously, this means that the different countries need to be taken into account according to their own conditions in order to make sure that we have a just transition.
Spokesperson: Thank you. Anadolu and then we’ll go on screen for the last question.
Question: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Thank you so much Secretary-General. Hello? Yes. Serife from Anadolu News Agency. I’m also going to go off topic a little bit. As you know today, the Seventh Brussels Conference on Syria was recently concluded, and you also sent a video message. Türkiye as one of the main hosting countries for Syrian refugees is asking for international cooperation to assist the safe and dignified return of these refugees. What do you think the United Nations could do in assisting these host countries for the return of safe and dignified refugees?
Secretary-General: We are totally committed, first of all, to mobilize international support to the refugee hosting countries. And on the other hand, we have been discussing at our country team level in relation to a number of resilience projects that we convinced the international community to fund; resilience projects that can help local communities to be able to integrate refugees coming back home. It’s important that they receive all the guarantees that they will not be persecuted. But you are talking about refugees?
Secretary-General: And refugees and migration are, of course, two questions that are deeply linked; and I was terribly shocked and impressed by the horrible events that took place close to the Greek coast, in which we don’t know yet how many people has died. And I think this is time for people to recognise that migration is inevitable. The world needs migration. But migration needs to be done in a regular and orderly way. And if countries do not engage in creating the conditions for an orderly and regular migration, migrants will be in the hands of smugglers and traffickers, and the consequences will be as tragic as we have seen yesterday.
Spokesperson: Thank you. Last two questions. Daniela from Valor Economico online. Daniela?
Question: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, Secretary-General. I’m from Brazil, and I want to… So Brazil now is discussing, there is a huge controversy here, because the Government wants to open a new frontier of oil strip 300 kilometres from the Amazon. And this has opened a crisis and a long debate because the governors of the Amazon State see oil as a chance for resourcing and they don’t see projects that are consistent enough. But this issue has opened a strong controversy with the environmental scientists and the Ministry of Environment. So how do you see, please, this dilemma?
Secretary-General: I do not know exactly the projects, but I have a firm belief is that all the oil and gas that was already discovered will not be used by humankind. I’m absolutely sure that a meaningful part of the oil and gas that was already discovered will remain on the ground forever.
Spokesperson: Thank you. Last question, Dimitri Soultogiannis from Star TV.
Question: Hello. Dimitri Soultogiannis, Star Television, Greece. In regard to the terrible shipwreck in Greece that you mentioned before, I’ll give you the numbers: close to 100 people have been recovered. A hundred people, close to a hundred have been dead. And these are gruesome numbers. We might never know the actual numbers. So, my question to you is, there is a huge effort unfolding by the Greek authorities for the second day today. Yet there was no mention about these efforts. In the last years, Greece has been a gateway for migrants trying to make it to Western Europe. Have you been in touch with the Greek authorities or has the United Nations even coordinated with the Greek authorities?
Secretary-General: No. The United Nations is in contact with the Greek authorities, but let’s be clear, this is not a Greek problem. This is a European problem. I think it’s time for Europe to be able, in solidarity, to define an effective migration policy for these kinds of situations not to happen again.