The UN Secretary-General António Guterres presented his priorities for the current year during his address to the General Assembly. The UN Chief’s roadmap included an appeal for setting an immediate course to achieve among other things, climate action. Recommitting to the SDGs, ending the ‘war on nature’ & signaling a shift to green energy – all made it to his ‘New Agenda for Peace’ for the year 2024.
The Secretary-General’s Address
Guterres appealed to all the member states of the United Nations to take urgent & immediate action, to achieve peace, economic rights and development, climate action, respect for diversity, and inclusive societies – both today and for generations to come, according to UN News correspondence.
According to him, these are not independent issues that the world has to deal with – and are instead, a number of interconnected challenges that require collective action. The UN Chief has been vocal about this message for quite a while, even during his address at the WEF at Davos last month,
“Our world is plagued by a perfect storm on a number of fronts…..all these challenges are interlinked and are piling up like cars in a chain reaction crash.”
On the issue of interconnected challenges, the Secretary-General doubled down on averting the climate crisis the world currently faces. He described his climate priority for the year as,
“This must be a year of game-changing climate action….We must end the merciless, relentless and senseless war on nature.”
He stressed the point that countries are crossing the alarming 1.5-degree limit on global temperature rise – and it soon would be too late to take any action. He appealed to all the member states to focus on the urgent priorities of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and achieving equitable climate justice.
In a general departure from carefully coded diplomatic language, the Sec-Gen presented his agenda in a frank and direct manner. The New York Times commended his vocal and direct stance on climate change and the need for green energy. During the address, Guterres boldly held the fossil-fuel industry accountable, and that made his speech even more prominent.
Here are the following climate-centric priorities that the Secretary-General put forward at the General Assembly yesterday, making individual calls to action for each issue.
Decarbonise & Shift To Green Energy
Decarbonization is at the core of the Sec-Gen agenda for this year. The UN has been focusing on cutting emissions for years now, especially since 2015 – when the world came together in Paris to agree that global temperature rise cannot go beyond the 1.5 C safe limit.
It has been seven and a half years since then, and currently, the planet is still on a collision course, moving towards a deadly 2.8 degrees – while carbon emissions continue rising and contributing to this.
Guterres believes that this is the ‘year of reckoning’, and global emissions have to be halved by the end of this decade.
While the Sec-Gen stressed on the need for “far more ambitious action” in transitioning to renewable sources of energy, he also presented a risk audit of his own to single out the major industrial emitters that need to be decarbonized urgently – these are, steel, cement, shipping, and aviation.
According to Euro News, these heavy industry and heavy-duty transport sectors combinedly account for around 20 percent of global C02 emissions.
For the fossil-fuel industry, however, the Sec-Gen had another thought coming.
Special Message to the Fossil-Fuel Industry
The UN Sec-Gen desperately asked for the ‘bottomless greed of the fossil fuel industry’ to stop. He gave them a stern message,
“I have a special message for fossil-fuel producers and their enablers scrambling to expand production and raking in monster profits : If you cannot set a credible course for net-zero with 2025 and 2030 targets covering all your operations, you should not be in business.”
Guterres was able to highlight the central problem with climate change and provide an outspoken commentary on the immoral nature of the oil and gas industry which undermines climate action.
Guterres added to his message by stating,
“Your core product is our core problem”.
For a world that wishes to decarbonize, fossil fuels are definitely the biggest roadblock to that goal – something which Big Oil & Gas companies often don’t realize, paying little attention to reducing their emissions, sometimes even hiding facts and figures about the negative impact their product has on the environment.
According to the UN Sec-Gen, if these companies do not present a genuine plan to reach net-zero emissions within a predetermined period, they should not continue to exist any longer.
Build Meaningful & ‘Just’ Climate Partnerships
In a special appeal to the developed countries in the world, the Sec-Gen urged them to support developing countries on their path to decarbonization. This needs to be done through ‘just energy transitions partnerships’ (JTEPs) – a concept that was introduced and agreed upon at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference.
Under this model, more developed and prosperous economies such as the EU nations, or the US & UK are supporting South Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc to decarbonize their energy sectors rapidly. In order to make this transition ‘just’, a portion of this funding is directed to those in polluting industries like coal workers who are looking for new jobs.
In his address, Guterres reiterated his appeal for a Climate Solidarity Pact, where the major emitters have to make more significant efforts to cut down. It would also include the wealthier nations mobilizing financial and technical resources to support emerging economies in keeping their climate commitments.
According to the Sec-Gen, such a pact will in turn cooperatively keep the Paris Pledge alive.
Finally, the Secretary-General also pointed out that cuts in emissions just for the sake of an audit or a checklist would not cut it anymore. “Fake carbon credits” is not what the world needs, neither does it require “Green-washing” or portrayal of certain publicity stunts and corporate activities as ‘climate conscious’ behavior.
As the UN Chief puts it, the time for “baby steps” such as that is over. The world needs “disruption to end destruction”.
Facilitate Equitable Climate Financing
Guterres stated that despite significant climate cooperation and action, a proper climate finance structure is still overdue. He called for a ‘radical transformation’ of the larger global financial architecture, which will address the issues of poverty, hunger, debt, post-pandemic stagnation, and declining social justice, alongside climate change.
Developed and rich countries are still to back up their pledge of $100 Billion to developing countries by 2020. This was supposed to build climate change mitigation and adaptation for Global South nations, especially the ones that are at risk. Only a portion of the pledged amount has been provided to date – while the need for climate finance is increasing, especially in order to build adaptation measures which the world is crucially lacking.
Guterres called for adaptation funding to be doubled and asked for more proactive cooperation from the G7 countries.
He also mentioned the need for significant progress in the development of early warning systems that can protect every person on Earth from any incoming disaster or calamity. According to him, the due date for such systems is within the next five years.
Finally, he put special emphasis on the critical need for the loss and damage fund to be finalized and put into action. The fund was the outcome agreement at the COP27 summit last year.
The Way Forward
The UN Chief reminded all member states of their existing commitments and then asked them to prepare for the upcoming COP28 conference in November. According to Guterres, COP28 will set the stage for the first-ever Global Stocktake, which would be,
“A collective moment of truth to assess where we are, and where we need to go in the next five years to reach the Paris goals.”
For the upcoming conference to be successful, the Secretary-General will convene a Climate Ambition Summit in September, ahead of the COP28 conference. He extended invitations to the leaders, prominent social activists, and businesses – but with one condition.
“Show us accelerated action in this decade and renewed ambitious net zero plans – or please don’t show up.”
Guterres concluded his address on the climate front, by stating that climate action is the 21st century’s greatest opportunity to drive forward all the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
It is only hoped that countries and businesses realize the desperate appeal the world’s head diplomat made yesterday – and what made him shift ahead from diplomatic code to such a frank and direct message – and may this realization come fast as according to Guterres,
“The Doomsday Clock is ticking close to midnight, and we need to wake up and get to work.”
Also Read: COP 27: UN Climate Change Conference