Home » UN Secretary-General | ‘We Stand On The Edge Of The Abyss’

UN Secretary-General | ‘We Stand On The Edge Of The Abyss’

Addressing the Petersberg Climate Dialogue hosted by the German Government, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres highlighted that with 6 months to go before COP26 in Glasgow, the world has endured unprecedented extreme weather and climate disasters around the world.

With doubts circling as to whether what is being billed as the most important climate Conference Of the Parties since COP21 in Paris, will even go ahead due to the pandemic, the need for the outcome of committed sweeping and significant reductions in carbon emissions is beyond any doubt.

Gueterres: “We stand on the abyss”

This is the kind of quote that we might typically expect from an activist sounding the climate alarm, rather than the UN Secretary General. With emissions continuing to rise and fears growing of a post-pandemic bounce, humanity is risking the fabric of life as we know it.

Do we need COP’s?

This COP will be number 26. This means we have had an astounding quarter of a century since the COP1 to try and agree a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world and still they rise.

Many in the activist space are saying out loud that we should not get our hopes up at this late stage that any COP can make a difference. In the interviews on this site there are many cases for and against the COP process.

In an Op-Ed posted on the Reuters Foundation website, Professor Saleemul Huq, a climate scientist and founder of the International Centre For Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, who has attended every single COP since the beginning, suggests that we do not need to stage a COP to get the outcome we need.

We need a pragmatic results based UN approach

Professor Huq points out that the UN has fully staffed offices to carry out the task of agreeing on emissions reductions via their headquarters in New York and satellite offices in places such as Geneva and Nairobi.

The outcome we seek is to tighten Nationally Determined Contributions that bend the curve towards zero emissions. This is a task that weighs heavy on developed countries such as the US and UK who have benefited most from the burning of fossil fuels and have the greatest historical emissions. 

Climate Justice

Although blame is not a great way to move forward, accountability is essential for equity of how we apportion responsibility for emissions going forward and achieve some semblance of climate justice for those who are most impacted.

There are also upsides to adhering to policies of fairness in that we not only save lives and reduce the likelihood of the absolute worst weather extremes (catastrophe rather than cataclysm), we also reduce the risk of global conflicts, migration and famine. 

The rich world must change

All of the worst outcomes have the potential to spread around the world impacting everyone. There is no upside to ignoring the opportunity we face now to change our way of living in the rich world. 

There is a debate as to whether personal actions to reduce impacts actually make a difference. To not address our own personal consumption and carbon pollution points to hypocrisy. We must strive to live by the rhetoric that we often applaud from our leaders. 

Flying less, reducing or stopping eating red meat, finding alternatives to combustion engines such as electric bikes are all part of the package. Asking our suppliers in all areas what they are doing to reduce their impact helps create the tide of flow towards significant emissions reduction. 

The ball has been kicked too far down the road and we are out of time. As Guterres says, we stand on the edge of the abyss!

Transcript of UN Secretary Guterres speech – 6th May 2021

French Chandeliers UK

Excellencies, 
Friends,
 
I thank Chancellor Merkel and the German government for convening this year’s Petersberg Climate Dialogue with the United Kingdom, president of this year’s UN climate conference. 
 
Six months ahead of COP26, and still deep in the COVID-19 crisis, I would like to share 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 – when 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, we are still heading for a disastrous temperature rise of 2.4 degrees by the end of the century.
 
We stand 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, backed by finance and technological support.
 
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 68 per cent per cent of the global economy and 61 per cent 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.
 
That is how we will keep hope of 1.5 degrees alive. 
 
A top priority must be to end coal use by 2030 in 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 generate green jobs. 
 
We can no longer afford big fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere.
 
Such investments simply deepen our predicament.
 
And 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 finance 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 shift taxation from income to carbon. 
 
Excellencies,
 
I remain deeply worried about the lack of progress on adaptation.
 
Already people are dying, farms are failing, millions face displacement.
 
There is a false dichotomy that says adaptation finance can only increase at the expense of mitigation finance.  
 
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 dollars.
 
Actual annual adaptation costs in the developing world alone are estimated at $70 billion dollars, 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. 
 
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 dollars 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. 
 
Excellencies,
Friends,
 
There are 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 narrowing window of opportunity to do the right thing.
 
Our future is in your hands.
 
Let us use the pandemic recovery and COP26 to promote a safe and sustainable future for all nations and people.
 
Thank you. 

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