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COP26: Guterres moves to strengthen UN climate team

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, says he is reshaping the climate team in his office to better focus on a roadmap towards COP26 in Scotland and other 2020 climate priorities.

António Guterres  COP26: Guterres moves to strengthen UN climate team Ant  nio Guterres
UN chief António Guterres in Tuvalu. Photo credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

He said on Monday, February 3, 2020 in a speech at UN Headquarters in New York that the move was also geared towards reaching the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, during the Decade of Action.

Mr. Guterres announced that he had begun scaling up the UN’s ambitions, with his new Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, the former Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, due to start in March, tasked with engaging business leaders on subjects including carbon neutrality, carbon pricing, disclosure of climate risk, and embedding climate into economic and financial priorities.

“We need to push for transformation in the way the financial sector works”, said Mr. Guterres, “as a lever for more ambitious national government engagement and commitments”.

He disclosed that climate action would be both a priority and a driver of world affairs through the coming decade, even as he declared that the next 10 years would be “crucial for achieving a fair globalization, boosting economic growth and building peaceful societies”.

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Mr. Guterres was addressing the UN Group of Friends on Climate, created by France and Morocco ahead of COP26 in order to foster global commitment to climate action.

The Decade of Action begins, said the UN chief, with efforts to ensure that the next UN climate conference, set to take place in Glasgow in November, is a success, following the “disappointment” of COP25.

“Seventy countries committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, including the European Union, but also many that have contributed least to the problem”, said Mr. Guterres. “That number represents less than one fourth of global emissions. We must make this commitment universal”.

Mr. Guterres repeated his attack on fossil fuel subsidies, and the necessity for countries – particularly, but not only, in East, South and Southeast Asia – to break their addiction to coal. Many countries, he said, continue to put coal at the heart of their energy plans, and there is still no universally agreed price on carbon. 

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This inability to kick the coal habit comes as the World Meteorological Organiaation (WMO) analysis shows that 2019 was the second hottest year on record, and that ocean heating is at a record level.

Positive private sector signs

Despite the mixed political messages, Mr. Guterres said he took heart from the proactive reaction to the climate emergency from the private sector, which has seen many parts of the financial world taking part in initiatives to encourage sustainable development.

An example is the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance, a UN-supported coalition of businesses worth trillions of dollars that will cooperate across borders, and even with competitors, to mobilise long-term finance.

Key 2020 events

Three key events taking place in 2020 were singled out for attention in the Secretary-General’s speech. The first, the Sustainable Transport Conference, which takes place in May, was described by the UN chief as a chance to “align our mobility systems with a climate-neutral world”.

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In June, the Oceans Conference will be an opportunity to “reverse and end the assault on the world’s marine ecosystems and resources, including the rising tide of plastics pollution”, and at the Biodiversity COP15  conference in October, the world must, said the UN chief, “move decisively towards an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Let’s not forget that one million species are in the near-term danger of extinction”.

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