Fresno Bee via AP
United Nations chief António Guterres said a high-level roundtable held Thursday reveals there is more, not less, consensus on how to bring down the “high fever of a burning Earth” that is faced with combating a pandemic and slowing man-made climate change.
Secretary-General Guterres believes a common conclusion has been reached: the global average temperature increase must be limited to 1.5 degrees and carbon neutrality reached by 2050, with a dramatic reduction in emissions by 2030.
The virtual UN talks timed with Climate Week, a typically New York-centered effort that draws rounds of press releases and green strategy rollouts from companies and government bodies; this year including WalMart, PepsiCo (NAS:PEP) and California’s aggressive pledge to ban the sale of fossil fuel-powered new cars.
Countries will need to present updated climate action plans before COP26, in a year’s time, in London, and all actors, from cities, to companies to NGOs, need to present their own transition plans, the UN leader said.
Also just this week, China, the world’s largest polluter, says it will try to flip to carbon-neutral by 2060, a nonbinding pledge that nonetheless raises the pressure on the U.S. to toughen its national response to man-made climate change.
Citing the outline of the voluntary Paris Agreement created in 2015, Xi said his country will “aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”
The fundamental task of governments and other public institutions, said the UN’s Guterres, is to avoid putting up barriers to sustainability policies and private-sector solutions. This is still happening today, he said, in the form of taxation, and fossil-fuel subsidies that are actively hindering climate action.
Instead, a carbon tax is essential, he offered.
Recounting a discussion with a prime minister who feared losing elections if they taxed carbon, Guterres suggested taxing pollution rather than income, as a move that would save jobs, and might even win elections. Another official countered that they couldn’t remove fossil-fuel subsidies because small businesses and citizens need cheap fuel, the UN chief told them to instead give the money directly to the poor.
Noting that climate disruption is “daily news,” he painted a picture of the past decade being the hottest on record, rising greenhouse gases and devastating wildfires, combined with record floods that are upending people and the planet.
“The recent United in Science report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is unequivocal,” he told the meeting. Against this backdrop, he urged everyone to act urgently, beginning with sustainable COVID-19 recovery plans that tackle climate change in the economic rebuild.
Mark Carney, the UN’s Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance, and formerly the Governor of the Bank of England, said Thursday that to achieve the Paris climate goals, the whole economy needs to transition, including the financial sector, and every financial sector must take climate into account.
Disclosure, he continued, is essential, adding that it is unacceptable for companies not to disclose the impact of their decisions on the climate. The EU is making this mandatory, and banks are moving in the right direction. he said.
The U.S. has generally lagged its developed counterparts in mainstreaming climate-risk reporting. But in an unprecedented report this summer, major regulators and others from a bipartisan group called for action.
Thursday’s panel of decision-makers also heard from younger voices. Youth climate activist Sophia Kianni expanded on Guterres’s mention of “prioritizing the most vulnerable people and communities.”
“It is especially crucial to include and prioritize indigenous people in climate change negotiations, as they have been protecting the earth for generations but their voices have been neglected or ignored in high-level discussions,” Kianni said. “Additionally, we must acknowledge and address the links between racial justice and climate justice as we work to devise a fair and just transition away from fossil fuels that addresses structural inequities.”
The UK will be hosting the next UN Climate summit, COP26, which has been delayed until November 2021.