UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke yesterday about addressing climate change, stressing the need to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Staff writer Grace Fitzgerald-Diaz attended the event, which like other events that are part of the World Leader’s Forum was virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The state of the planet is broken” were some of the first words I heard yesterday, when I pulled myself out of bed to listen to UN Secretary-General António Guterres speak at 8:45 am on climate change and sustainability. 

After being introduced by current University President Bollinger, Mr. Guterres opened by painting a stark, but accurate, picture of the current state of the planet. Even with the cooling effects brought by the fact that it was a La Niña year, 2020 has been one of the three hottest years ever recorded. We are acidifying our oceans and destroying species and entire ecosystems at an alarming rate. Arctic sea ice in October was the lowest ever on record, and it has been the slowest refreezing ever recorded. He continued on, saying, “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.”

Climate policy as it currently stands fails to address the challenges we are presented with. As countries work to recover from the pandemic, however, there is an opportunity to restore our planet, which Mr. Guterres described as “an epic policy test, but ultimately, a moral test.” He emphasized that it is necessary to not only reset the global economy but to transform and decarbonize it. As economies change to support this goal, however, it is important to recognize the human costs of decarbonization. Though it will create an estimated 18 million jobs, we must recognize that some workers will lose their jobs. We must also support them in order to ensure an equitable transition.

Mr. Guterres noted that by early 2021, countries representing over 65% of global emissions will have made significant commitments to lessening their emissions of greenhouse gases. However, it is important that we are not complacent: every entity and individual must continue to work toward the crucial goal of decreasing emissions by at least 45% by 2030 and to be carbon-neutral by 2050. If these goals are not met, the effects will be catastrophic.

And, as Mr. Guterres noted, there is concern that these goals won’t be met. During the pandemic, many countries have rolled back environmental regulations, and others are retreating from their goals to reduce the effects of the climate crisis. G20 nations have spent 50% more on sectors linked to fossil fuel consumption during the economic recovery from the pandemic. 

But reducing carbon emissions is just one of the things we need to do. Mr. Guterres also stressed the importance of governments turning their goals into concrete policies and plans with specific timelines to give the private sector the confidence to invest in a green economy. And governments must change the way they spend their money; rather than subsidizing industries that are worsening the problem, they must support those that are working toward carbon neutrality and climate resilience. 

Though we must work to prevent as much warming as we can, we also must adapt to the new reality of our world. Currently, only 20% of climate funding goes to adaptation and resilience, but Mr. Guterres stated that “the race to resilience is as important as the race to net zero.” Though we can work to prevent the worsening of climate change, there are changes it has caused that cannot be undone, and we must adapt to this reality.

During the Q&A session, Mr. Guterres emphasized that individuals also have a role to play in combatting climate change. Not only is it our responsibility to do everything we can, but it is also our job to make governments and companies take responsibility for their actions. He noted that the youth movement has been one of the important factors in combatting the climate crisis, and that young people have had a critical role in putting pressure on governments to take action. He also added, though, that “power normally is not given, power normally is taken, so you young people, you need to take power.” 

Though the event worked very well virtually, there were definitely points where the reality of Zoom showed—during the Q&A there were some issues with being able to hear the questions that were being asked, including one question that was completely inaudible due to audio issues.

Though Mr. Guterres offered some cautious optimism, he was clear on one thing: “we are in a race against time to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.”

Earth via Bwog Archives