UN Secretary General Says COVID-19 Spending Must Be “Climate-Smart”

Governments should use COVID-19 economic recovery for “massive investments” in green jobs and technologies, Secretary General António Guterres says in interviews by Covering Climate Now partners NBC News, Noticias Telemundo and Agence France Presse.

Governments should use COVID-19 economic recovery packages for “massive investments” in green jobs and technologies, Secretary General António Guterres says in interviews by Covering Climate Now partners NBC News, Noticias Telemundo and Agence France Presse.

“We can either rebuild as it was, which is a huge mistake because of the fragilities of the world, or we can rebuild a more inclusive and a more sustainable economy and society,” he said.

Guterres spoke to our partners ahead of a new State of the Climate report by the World Meteorological Association and the UN set to be released on Wednesday, September 9th. Watch and read the interviews below.

Climate Change and Coronavirus: NBC’s Al Roker Talks to UN Secretary General

Interview Transcript
Al Roker: Through our collaboration with Covering Climate Now, we spoke to UN secretary general, Antonio Gutierrez, ahead of next week’s 75th session of the General Assembly.
When the world went into lockdown last spring, a brief and beautiful transformation took place. Animals appearing in locations they hadn’t been seen in years. Mountains and skylines revealed after decades shrouded in pollution. And a remarkable, hopeful drop in greenhouse gas emissions, the single largest contributing factor to climate change.

This silver lining, however, quickly faded as countries started opening up. But one thing became crystal clear. Society can enact change, and quickly. In a year unlike any other, the United Nations secretary general gives the world direction on recovery, rebuilding, and a dire warning if action isn’t taken now.

Mr. Secretary General, you’ve been very direct in your messaging, talking to countries saying they not only have to consider including greener regulations when it relates especially to COVID-19 economic stimulus, the two, you link them very closely. Why has that become such a mission?

António Guterres: I believe that we are facing a dramatic challenge with COVID-19. But this terrible challenge that has caused so much suffering, and that has had a devastating impact on the economies and societies, is an opportunity. We need to rebuild. We need to invest massively rebuilding. So we can either rebuild as it was, which is a huge mistake because of the fragilities of the world, or we can rebuild a more inclusive and a more sustainable economy and society. And for that, that is why I’ve been recommending to have massive investments in green technologies, in green industries, in green energy.

Al Roker: When you talk about investing in green jobs, what are you talking about?

António Guterres: We need to have climate justice, which means to invest in green energy, creates three times more jobs than to invest in fossil fuel energy. But at the same time, let’s have social and economic measures addressing the needs of the people that is impacted by the transformations in society, namely climate action, and make their jobs be no longer existent in the economy.

Al Roker: COVID and climate have really kind of stripped away the differences in societies. Where do you see us right now as a society?

António Guterres: Well, what is dramatic is that one of the fragilities that was so clearly underlined by COVID-19 is the fragility that comes out of inequality. Inequalities in income and wealth, but also inequalities linked to gender. Inequalities linked to ethnicity, to race inequalities of all kind. We need to the extent possible to eliminate them, or at least to have equity and justice in the way you invest our resources when rebuilding our economies.

Al Roker: Paris Climate Accord. November 4th, the United States is scheduled to pull out. What does that do to a global effort to reduce those emissions?

António Guterres: Well, we need United States contribution to climate action. And I think it’s important to say that even if the US government has decided to leave the Paris agreement, we see in the US an enormous movement in favor to climate action. And I am very optimistic that this dynamic demonstration by the American society and the American business community will compensate for the lack of political commitment that exists at the present moment.

Al Roker: We always look to our youth. Are you more optimistic because of this generation that’s coming up?

António Guterres: Yes. I think it’s our best hope, is the generation that’s coming up, and that understood already, and we see that in so many ways around the world, understood already that either we are united or we’ll be doomed.

Al Roker: UN secretary general, António Guterres. Also tomorrow, the World Meteorological Association and the UN are going to be releasing their State of the Climate report tomorrow. Findings expected to be fairly grim, with 2020 on track to be our hottest year on the planet ever.

Climate Emergency Is Central Question Facing the World: UN Secretary General Tells Telemundo’s Vanessa Hauc

Interview Highlights

  • “The main lesson of this year is that ‘Our societies are very fragile.  We were not prepared for a pandemic, and we are not prepared for the climate crisis.  And this fragility is a reminder that what we really need is humility and solidarity.’”
  • “The climate emergency, I would say, is the central question facing the world.  What’s clear is that we are not yet taking the steps that science says is necessary.  Currently, we are on track for a temperature rise of 3 degrees C by the end of this century, which would be an utter catastrophe.”
  • “We need to make peace with nature.  At the moment, we are at war with nature, and in return nature is in a war with us, a terrible war…  We cannot survive if we sacrifice nature, because nature will strike back.”

AFP: Cooperate on Climate or ‘We Will Be Doomed’: UN chief

Read this AFP story in Spanish and in French. Note: All versions of this story are available for reprint by CCNow partners.

World powers must pull together and retool their economies for a green future or humanity is “doomed”, UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned, telling AFP that failure to control the coronavirus pandemic illustrates the danger of disunity.

Before the virus struck, 2020 was billed as a pivotal year for the plan to dodge the bullet of catastrophic global warming, with high profile summits planned to catch a wave of public alarm over the future of the planet.

The coronavirus crisis may have shunted climate into the sidelines as nations launched unprecedented shutdowns to try to slow its spread, but Guterres said the need for climate action was more urgent than ever.

In a searing assessment of the international response, Guterres said the pandemic should sharpen governments’ focus on cutting emissions, urging them to use the crisis as a springboard to launch “transformational” policies aimed at weaning societies off fossil fuels.

“I think the failure that was shown in the capacity to contain the spread of the virus — by the fact that there was not enough international coordination in the way the virus was fought — that failure must make countries understand that they need to change course,” he told AFP.

The UN chief said “pollution and not people” should be taxed and called for nations to end fossil fuel subsidies, launch massive investments in renewables and commit to “carbon neutrality” — net zero emissions — by 2050.

“We need to have a number of transformational measures in relation to energy, in relation to transportation, in relation to agriculture, in relation to industry, in relation to our own way of life, without which we would be doomed,” he said.

His comments come as the landmark Paris climate deal goes into effect this year in a bid to cap the rise in temperature to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

The accord was already on a knife edge before the pandemic, with doubts over commitments from major polluting nations and concerns that it is still far short of what science says is needed to avert disastrous climate change.

US President Donald Trump shocked the world in 2017 when he said the United States — history’s largest emitter — was withdrawing from the Paris deal. It is due to leave on November 4, just after the country’s presidential election.

The pandemic has further dented hopes that diplomatic pressure could sweep foot-dragging nations into announcing bold climate action plans, as major summits were postponed and nations focused inwards.

Guterres said there was currently no clear sign that a United States government recovery policy would align with Paris goals, but he expressed hope that states, businesses and individuals “will compensate for the lack of political commitment that exists at the present moment”.

He said much now rests on the actions of major emitters, China, the US, Europe, Russia, India and Japan, in interviews with AFP and other members of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets committed to increased climate coverage.

“We have never been as fragile as we are, we never needed as much humility, unity and solidarity as now,” he said, blasting “irrational demonstrations of xenophobia” and the rise of nationalism.

“Either we are united, or we will be doomed,” he added, ahead of a largely virtual UN General Assembly this month.

‘Wake up’

Climate change warnings are no longer predictions of a distant future.

Earth’s average surface temperature has gone up by one degree Celsius since the 19th century, enough to increase the intensity of droughts, heat waves and tropical cyclones.

Burning fossil fuels has been by far the main driver of rising temperatures, with concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere now at their highest levels in around three million years.

The last five years were the five hottest on record, while ice sheets are melting at a rate that tracks scientists’ worst-case scenarios, prefiguring devastating sea level rises.

“The expectations that we have in relation to the next five years about storms, about drought and about other dramatic impacts in the living conditions of many people around the world are absolutely terrible,” Guterres said, ahead of a multi-agency climate report on Wednesday.

The United Nations says it is still possible to reach a safer goal of a 1.5C cap in temperature rise, but to get there global emissions must fall 7.6 percent annually this decade.

While the shutdowns implemented during the pandemic could reduce global emissions by up to eight percent in 2020, scientists have warned that without systemic change in how the world powers and feeds itself, the drop would be essentially meaningless.

‘A different world’

There are also concerns that massive Covid-19 stimulus packages being devised by governments could provide a crutch to polluting industries.

Guterres has urged Japan, India and China to drop their continued reliance on coal.

China — the world’s biggest polluter — has invested heavily in renewable energy, but it has also reportedly stepped up coal production.

The UN head said he was hopeful the EU would make good on its green commitments, after it announced its 750-billion-euro ($885 billion) stimulus plan that aims in part to reach carbon neutrality targets.

He said the pandemic had demonstrated society’s capacity to adapt to transformation.

“I don’t want to go back to a world where biodiversity is being put into question, to a world where fossil fuels receive more subsidies than renewables, or to a world in which we see inequalities making societies with less and less cohesion and creating instability, creating anger, creating frustration,” he added.

“I think we need to have a different world, a different normal and we have an opportunity to do so.”

Note to our partners: If you’re interested in using the raw video, audio and/or transcripts from any of these interviews for your own reporting please contact editors@coveringclimatenow.com.