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UN Secretary General specifically calls out Australia on climate targets and coal “1.5-degree goal is on life support” | Full Speech

On Monday 21 March the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres made remarks to the Economist Sustainability Summit in a speech labelled Keeping 1.5 Alive – Delivering on the Fate of our Planet. In the speech he specifically called out Australia for failure to take climate action in increasing 2030 climate targets and phasing out coal and gas.

The developed and emerging economies of the G20 account for 80 per cent of all global emissions. A growing number of G20 developed economies have announced meaningful emissions reductions by 2030 – with a handful of holdouts, such as Australia.” said  Guterres.

He didn’t mince his words on the global catstrophe we are facing, either.

According to present national commitments, global emissions are set to increase by almost 14 per cent in the 2020s. Last year alone, global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 6 per cent to their highest levels in history. Coal emissions have surged to record highs. We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.” 

On a global level he articulated what we need to aim for to avoid catastrophe: “Keeping 1.5 alive requires a 45 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by mid-century. That problem was not solved in Glasgow. “

He argues for progressively dismantling coal infrastructure, with full phase-out by 2030 for OECD countries (like Australia), and 2040 for all others. For financing adaptation and mitigation to be pursued with equal force and urgency.

He ends his speech on how do we keep 1.5 alive by calling for positive action and solutions:

  • By accelerating the phase-out of coal and all fossil fuels and implementing a rapid, just and sustainable energy transition — the only true pathway to energy security. 
  • By honouring the Glasgow pledge to strengthen national climate plans every year until they are aligned with 1.5 degrees. 
  • By delivering concrete outcomes this year on climate coalitions to help emerging economies urgently phase out coal. 
  • By driving a swift and transformative increase in climate finance with multilateral development banks leading on unlocking the trillions that we know are needed. 
  • By speeding up the decarbonization of major sectors such as shipping, aviation, steel and cement. 
  • And by protecting the most vulnerable and ensuring an equal focus on adaptation. 

“That’s how we will move the 1.5 degree goal from life support to the recovery room. “

And Australia is presently not doing our fair share in ambituous 2030 climate targets, in planning for phase out of coal mining in a just transition engaging l;ocal communities in solutions.

Simon Bradshaw, head of research at the Climate Council, told the Guardian that the UN chief’s direct and veiled attacks on Australia’s climate policies were striking.

“It’s very unusual for the UN secretary general to call out any country, specifically,” he said. “I don’t recall a time when this has happened. It’s striking to see.

“What it indicates is that we’re going to keep seeing that pressure on Australia until we step up. We’re still the only one of those big developed countries that hasn’t significantly increased its commitments for this decade.”

See has video comments at ABC News. 

The reaction from the Australian Government was lead by  Communications minister, Paul Fletcher. He told ABC News Breakfast the “chattering classes of the UN can say what they want” while Australia was “delivering outcomes” like a 20 percent emissions reduction since 2005. That was a “better performance” than the US, Canada, and New Zealand, Fletcher said.

The claims by Fletcher don’t stack up. Most of that 20 per cent reduction has been from reduction in land clearing. 2005 was a peak in landclearing, like 1990 was for the Kyoto Protocol and the Australia clause, which allowed Australia to increase emissions by 8 percent. In Madrid in 2019 Australia wanted to be able to carry roll over excess Kyoto credits for the Paris Agreement, undermining the negotiations. While electricity and agriculture sectors have seen a recent fall, this has been compensated by some other sectors, particularly fugitive emissions and transport seeing a rise in emissions. If you exclude LULUCF emissions we are performing worse than some comparable countries.

See Australia Institute report from May 2021: New Analysis: Australia doing less than other countries on climate.

Meanwhile, Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor is expanding government funding for gas expansion. “an additional $50.3 million will be invested in seven priority projects, as well as key carbon capture and storage infrastructure.” was announced by the Minister on March 22. 

Australia has failed to undertake a national climate risk assessment and draw up a National Climate Adaptation Plan.

The 2022 Federal election is pivotal for the next Government in redrawing Australia’s priorities facing more frequent and intense climate disasters, and playing our part in the global community by rapid transformation to a zero carbon economy.

Let me begin by thanking Zanny Minton Beddoes and the Economist for hosting this Sustainability Summit. 

You have kindly invited me to speak on the topic of “Keeping 1.5 Alive”. 

Well, there is no kind way to put it:

The 1.5-degree goal is on life support. It is in intensive care.

And we must tell it like it is. 

The world emerged from Glasgow with a certain naïve optimism. 

Yes, we saw some progress at COP 26. 

Commitments to end deforestation. 

To reduce methane emissions. 

To encourage International Financial Institutions to consider climate vulnerabilities in their support, including Special Drawing Rights. 

To finally close the Paris rule book with agreement on carbon markets and transparency. 

To mobilize private finance through the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero – even if, let’s face it, some companies continue to take decisions that favour fossil fuels. 

But the main problem was not solved – it was not even properly addressed. 

And that main problem is the enormous emissions gap. 

The science is clear. 

So is the math. 

Keeping 1.5 alive requires a 45 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by mid-century. 

That problem was not solved in Glasgow. 

In fact, the problem is getting worse. 

According to present national commitments, global emissions are set to increase by almost 14 per cent in the 2020s. 

Last year alone, global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 6 per cent to their highest levels in history. 

Coal emissions have surged to record highs. 

We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe. 

Our planet has already warmed by as much as 1.2 degrees – and we see the devastating consequences everywhere. 

In 2020, climate disasters forced 30 million people to flee their homes — three times more than those displaced by war and violence. 

Just two weeks ago, the IPCC confirmed that half of humanity is already living in the danger zone. 

Small island nations, least developed countries and poor and vulnerable people everywhere, are one climate shock away from doomsday. 

In our globally connected world, no country and no corporation, can insulate itself from these levels of chaos. 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. 

Even 2 degrees may be out of reach.

And that would be catastrophe. 

So what do we do about it?

If we want to stop global warming, we need to go to the source – the G20. 

The developed and emerging economies of the G20 account for 80 per cent of all global emissions. 

A growing number of G20 developed economies have announced meaningful emissions reductions by 2030 – with a handful of holdouts, such as Australia. 

But the development imperatives and economic structure of major emerging economies are standing in the way of similar commitments. 

Above all, a high dependence on coal. This includes China, India, Indonesia and others. 

Our planet can’t afford a climate blame game – with developed countries saying on the one hand: 

“We did our job – now it’s up to emerging economies to accelerate their transition.” 

And emerging economies responding by saying: 

“You exported carbon-intensive heavy industrial activities to us in return for cheaper goods. You have outsourced pollution. If you look at emissions that correspond to consumption – not production – the developed world still has a long way to go. 

Plus, you have a historical responsibility – and that is why we have the internationally agreed principle of common but differentiated responsibilities in the light of national circumstances.” 

Well, if this goes on, there are no winners in a blame game. 

We can’t point fingers while the planet burns.

So what’s the solution? 

Well before Glasgow, I have been advocating for the formation of coalitions to provide major emerging economies with resources and technology to accelerate their transition from coal to renewable energy. 

These countries often hit many roadblocks on the road to renewable energy. 

These include: high capital costs, technical challenges and inadequate access to finance. 

They also need support for a just transition for coal miners and coal-dependent regions. 

Developed countries, multilateral development banks, private financial institutions and companies with the technical know-how – all need to join forces in these coalitions to deliver support at scale and with speed to coal-intensive economies. 

Such a coalition has been formed in South Africa. 

And the pieces are coming into place for coalitions in Indonesia, Viet Nam and elsewhere. 

India is pursuing bilateral measures to achieve Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious targets for renewable energy expansion by 2030, which we hope to soon see reflected in a new and strengthened national climate plan. 

The G7 is making important progress in advancing coal phase-out coalitions. 

And as declared in Glasgow last Fall, the two largest emitters and economies, China and the US, intend to work together to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy in the 2020s and the transition in China. 

We need an even greater sense of urgency around these mechanisms of cooperation between developed and emerging economies to make sure all G20 countries deliver the emissions reduction that is needed. 

This is the major challenge. 

The good news is that all G20 governments – including China, Japan and Korea — have agreed to stop funding coal abroad. 

They must now urgently do the same at home – progressively dismantling their own coal infrastructure, with full phase-out by 2030 for OECD countries, and 2040 for all others. 

Those in the private sector still financing coal must be held to account. 

Their support for coal not only could cost the world its climate goals. 

It’s a stupid investment – leading to billions in stranded assets. 

And it’s time to end fossil fuel subsidies and stop the expansion of oil and gas exploration. 

But even the most ambitious action will not erase the fact that the situation is already bad. 

In many cases, and many places, it is irreversibly bad. 

While we drive emissions down to reduce future damage, we must protect vulnerable peoples, communities and nations from rising harm right now. 

That is why adaptation and mitigation must be pursued with equal force and urgency. 

The Glasgow commitment on doubling adaptation funding by 2025 is clearly not enough. 

I have been pushing for 50 per cent of all climate finance for adaptation. 

Because adaptation saves lives – and livelihoods. 

But adaptation investments need to be dramatically scaled up to keep pace with accelerating impacts, as highlighted by the recent IPCC report. 

This means bankable, ready-to-go projects that protect people and communities that are most vulnerable to extreme weather events – and ensuring the finance is available and accessible to deliver them. 

We can start with some low-hanging fruit.

Globally, one person in three is currently not covered by early warning systems. 

Six in 10 people in Africa are not yet protected.

This is unacceptable. 

Most of these people live in least developed countries and small island developing states. 

In many places, in particular communities living in high climate impact zones, infrastructure needs to be climate-proofed. 

I have called on all donors and technical partners to work with the governments of these countries and the United Nations to identify projects and programmes and fund them. 

I’m also pressing to remove the obstacles that prevent small island states and least developed countries from getting the finance they desperately need. 

We need new eligibility systems – much more simplified — to deal with this new reality. 

All of this puts the focus on finance. 

We need enormous increases to realize this transition and to invest in adaptation and resilience. 

That means public finance, blended finance and private finance.

On the public finance side, wealthier countries must finally make good on the $100 billion climate finance commitment – in 2022 — to developing countries. 

International financial institutions must give greater priority to this. 

On blended finance, those institutions must partner with private finance for joint investments or give guarantees that will attract much greater volumes of private investment. More creative risk-taking and innovation is needed to unlock the trillions the transition desperately needs. 

On the private side, we need to see far more investment in the net-zero and climate-resilient transition of emerging economies. 

It is the right thing to do – and the profitable thing to do. 

Ladies and gentlemen,  

Finally, let me say that all this is happening in the context of a cauldron of challenges, especially for the most vulnerable. 

Recovery from COVID is scandalously uneven. 

Developing countries are getting slammed with record inflation, interest rate hikes and looming debt burdens. 

And the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine risks upending global food and energy markets — with major implications for the global climate agenda. 

As major economies pursue an “all-of-the-above” strategy to replace Russian fossil fuels, short-term measures might create long-term fossil fuel dependence and close the window to 1.5 degrees. 

Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use. 

This is madness. 

Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction. 

As current events make all too clear, our continued reliance on fossil fuels puts the global economy and energy security at the mercy of geopolitical shocks and crises. 

We need to fix the broken global energy mix.

The timeline to cut emissions by 45 per cent is extremely tight. 

Instead of hitting the brakes on the decarbonization of the global economy, now is the time to put the pedal to the metal towards a renewable energy future. 

Dear friends,

So how do we keep 1.5 alive? 

By accelerating the phase-out of coal and all fossil fuels and implementing a rapid, just and sustainable energy transition — the only true pathway to energy security. 

By honouring the Glasgow pledge to strengthen national climate plans every year until they are aligned with 1.5 degrees. 

By delivering concrete outcomes this year on climate coalitions to help emerging economies urgently phase out coal. 

By driving a swift and transformative increase in climate finance with multilateral development banks leading on unlocking the trillions that we know are needed. 

By speeding up the decarbonization of major sectors such as shipping, aviation, steel and cement. 

And by protecting the most vulnerable and ensuring an equal focus on adaptation. 

That’s how we will move the 1.5 degree goal from life support to the recovery room. 

Thank you. 

References:

  • United Nations, 21 March 2022, Secretary-General’s remarks to Economist Sustainability Summit, https://www.un.org/sg/en/node/262502
  • ABC News, 22 March 2022, Simon Bradshaw, head of research at the Climate Council. VIDEO: ‘Ongoing discontent’ internationally on Australia’s climate action, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-22/ongoing-discontent-internationally-on-australias/13806792

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