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Climate change is battle of my life: UN Chief Antonio Guterres

By Deepak Arora

Secretary-General António Guterres takes a tour on an eco-friendly, solar powered sail boat that teaches conservation as well as climate-related issues. UN Photo/Mark GartenSUVA, May 16: The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has revealed that the climate change was the battle of his life. “As Secretary-General, I have many battles”, the UN chief tweeted. “As a grandfather, the battle against climate change is the battle of my life” adding “it’s a battle we’re not winning”.

He saw the frontline of “the battle against climate change” for himself on Thursday, by taking to the tropical waters of the South Pacific off the coast of Fiji, on a solar-powered boat.

Guterres was greeted on board the Uto ni Yalo, a traditional emission-free ship built as part of a naval fleet that combines the ancient craft of Pacific shipbuilding with modern materials and green technology.

The ship, whose name means “Heart of the Spirit”, has circumnavigated the world twice, sailing over 80,000 nautical miles to countries in the Northern and Southern hemispheres to motivate community, corporate and policy commitments to protect the world’s islands and ocean spaces.

Guterres held firmly to his belief that “we need stronger political will and urgent climate action to save our planet and our future”.

He also participated in an interactive session with students at the University of the South Pacific on combating climate change, where he heard about their work and told them, “The world needs your generation to keep my generation accountable.”

He assured them that the UN is committed to continue listening to their voices and opening pathways for meaningful participation in decisions that affect them.

“Young people around the world are driving transformative climate action and MUST keep up the pressure on their leaders” he tweeted. “The determination of the students I met in Fiji is key to living at peace with our climate”.

For their part, the students in Fiji told the UN chief that they want the world to know they are calling for urgent climate action.

Earlier in the day, Guterres laid a wreath at the National War Memorial for the fallen peacekeepers in the Pacific region, where he tweeted that “Since the 1970s, Fijian peacekeepers have served in UN peacekeeping missions, [where] some have made the ultimate sacrifice”. He thanked Fiji “for its contribution to protecting the vulnerable”.

As well as meeting Fiji's President Geogi Konrotti, where they planted a ceremonial coconut tree, the Secretary-General told a joint press conference with Prime Minister Josia Furek Benimarama that climate change was "a life battle for Fiji and the Pacific."

UN Chief lauds Fijians as ‘natural global leaders’ on climate, environment

By Deepak Arora

UN Secretary-General António Guterres address the Fijian Parliament in the capital, Suva, on May 16, 2019. UN Photo/Mark GartenSUVA, May 16: Fiji’s strong traditions of community and social responsibility, and its “symbiotic relationship” with its surroundings, has made its people “natural global leaders on climate and the environment”, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told the nation’s Parliament on Thursday.

“Fiji has taken on the sceptics and the deniers” in a loud and clear voice, he said, “and the world is listening”.

The Secretary-General outlined that Fiji was the first small island State to preside over the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and in 2017, became the first emerging market to issue a sovereign “green bond”, dedicated to environmental conservation. It introduced an Environment and Climate Adaptation Levy; launched a rural electrification programme to reduce diesel emissions; and has relocated villages and established guidelines on how to support people displaced due to climate change.

“Other countries in the region can learn from your example”, he congratulated.

Guterres pointed to the Fijian legislature as another of the country’s important achievements calling it “a place of inclusiveness, equality, diversity and tolerance”.

“We need that spirit more than ever at this time”, he said, noting rising anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim rhetoric, the persecution of Christians and other forms of xenophobia and racism.

The UN chief stressed the importance of showing solidarity in response to a “dangerous upsurge in hatred” and to combat the hate speech “coarsening our public dialogue in many countries and regions of the world”.

Citing the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as “our blueprint for a fair globalization built on prosperous, peaceful and resilient societies on a healthy planet”, he commended Fiji for being the first parliament in the world to undertake an SDG self-assessment.

Noting that climate change is “the defining issue of our time”, Mr. Guterres acknowledged how Fijians have suffered cyclones, floods and droughts, or lost their homes, schools or crops to rising seas, saying “the United Nations stands with you, I stand with you”.

He flagged the importance of financing, underscoring that given the amount of climate change that has already occurred, investment in adaptation “is especially crucial” in the Pacific region.

“We need developed countries to fulfill the pledges they have made to support action in developing countries – including by mobilizing the public and private sector to reach $100 billion per year to support mitigation and adaptation”, the UN chief said, adding that the “successful replenishment of the Green Climate Fund” is also vital.

To help generate ambition, Guterres announced that he is convening a Climate Action Summit in September.

“My message to leaders is very clear: Don’t come with a speech; come with a plan”, he asserted. “I want leaders to showcase their plans to enhance Nationally Determined Contributions by 2020, and to cut emissions radically by 2025” by ending subsidies for fossil fuels and unsustainable agriculture and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices.

Carbon pricing must reflect the true cost of emissions, the UN chief said, “from climate risk to the health hazards of air pollution”. That means not constructing any coal plants beyond 2020 and replacing jobs in fossil fuel industries with “cleaner, healthier alternatives, so the transformation is inclusive, profitable and just”.

Noting “rampant” overfishing and plastic pollution that is “poisoning and depleting” the oceans, he emphasized that “the world must do more”.

“The coming years will be a vital period to save the planet and to achieve sustainable, inclusive human development,” he said. “The alarm bells keep ringing”.

“We must address this global emergency with ambition and urgency”, the Secretary-General concluded, adding “every country has a role to play”.

UN chief outlines ‘intertwined challenges’ of climate change, ocean health

By Deepak Arora

The low-lying island nation, Tuvalu, in the Pacific Ocean is particularly susceptible to higher sea levels caused by climate change. UNDP Tuvalu/Aurélia RusekSUVA, May 15: Visiting Fiji for the first time as Secretary-General, António Guterres outlined two “fundamental challenges” facing leaders attending the Pacific Islands Forum on Tuesday, namely climate change and the world’s rising ocean, which threatens to submerge low-lying nations.

“The Pacific region is on the frontline of climate change”, he said. “That means you are also our important allies in the fight against it”.

The UN chief said that he was there “to see the region’s climate pressures firsthand, and to learn about the work being undertaken by communities here in Fiji and elsewhere to bolster resilience”.

Noting that the last four years were the hottest on record, Guterres highlighted recent ice losses in Greenland and Antarctica, saying that “sea levels will rise a full meter by 2100”.

In the Pacific specifically, he said that sea-levels are set to rise in some countries four times above the global average, posing “an existential threat to some island States”.

Providing “ample evidence of the region’s vulnerability” the UN chief cited recent damage caused by Tropical Cyclones Gita, Josie and Keni as well as by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and other extreme weather events in the region.

Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji on May 15 2019. UN Photo/Mark Garten“Climate change will further worsen the risks”, he spelled out, noting that the salinization of water and crops is endangering food security and escalating the impact on public health.

He maintained that climate change also brings “clear dangers” for international peace and security, pointing to the 2018 Boe Declaration, which reaffirms climate change as the single greatest threat to the wellbeing of the Pacific.

Guterres said that he recently appointed a task force to coordinate UN initiatives to address these challenges.

“Military strategists see clearly the possibility of climate impacts increasing tensions over resources and mass movements of people”, he continued. “As coastal areas or degraded inland areas become uninhabitable, people will seek safety and better lives elsewhere”.

Recalling that more than 24 million people in 118 countries and territories were displaced by natural disasters in 2016, he told Pacific leaders their islands and communities "are in the forefront of global climate negotiations”.

He vowed the UN’s strong commitment “to supporting your response to climate change and reversing the negative trends that have put your cultures and very existence at risk”.

Climate change also threatens the well-being of the world’s ocean and seas, which are critical to the economies and traditions of the Pacific.

“Oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, causing coral bleaching and reducing biodiversity” the UN chief told the Forum, stating that global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius would cause “severe damage to tropical reefs”.

Moreover, if warming reached two degrees Celsius or more, “it would be catastrophic for marine life and humans alike” he said. “Food security would decline. Economic growth would suffer”.

But seas and marine life are also under attack from other directions. Mr. Guterres painted a picture of overfishing; underwater deserts in effect, with no oxygen; seas filled with poison and trash, and species becoming extinct within decades.

“Every year, more than eight million tonnes of harmful plastic waste end up in the ocean” he said. “According to one recent study, plastic could outweigh fish in our seas by 2050”.

While many countries are finally rejecting single-use plastic, the UN chief underscored that “we must do even more” to address the unsustainable levels of stress on marine and coastal ecosystems.

He commended Pacific countries for ensuring the adoption of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, saying that his Special Envoy for the Ocean, Fiji’s Peter Thomson, is promoting the SDGs and the outcomes of the UN Ocean Conference.

“To address the intertwined challenges of climate change and ocean health, we need smart and far-reaching steps” that require action aligned with the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda, which makes full use of tools, such as the Convention on the Law of the Sea, according to the UN chief.

“We have the blueprints, frameworks and plans” he stated. “What we need is urgency, will and ambition”.

Guterres spoke of his Climate Action Summit in September at UN Headquarters, as an opportunity “to scale up” pledges to halt emission increases 2020, and “dramatically reduce” them to net-zero emissions by mid-century.

He also stressed the importance of gender diversity in decision making as climate change has impacts on women, citing as an example that food salinization affects the health of pregnant women and newborns.

Come September, Guterres said that sustainable development will be centre-stage as SDG progress will be reviewed and finance mobilization discussed.

He lauded Pacific countries’ commitment to promote their vision of a “Blue Continent” and maintained that their voices “remain crucial in global negotiations”.

“The Pacific has a unique moral authority to speak out” he said. “It is time for the world to listen”.

In his closing remarks, the UN chief reiterated that because Pacific Island States are “leading by example”, they have “the moral authority” to tell the world that climate change needs to be reversed.

While lauding some of the innovations mentioned over the last two day, Guterres warned that “we are not yet winning the battle in relation to climate change and we are not yet winning the battle in relation to oceans”.

“We will not give up and we want the Summit that we are convening in September to be a reaffirmation of this objective and its feasibility and the request for the political will to be in place, especially from those countries that are contributing more to climate change” he underscored.

Noting the linkages between climate change, oceans and development, the UN chief stressed that “we must mobilize the whole multilateral system” and “the international community” to address climate change “in the context of all the other problems that we are facing and all the other battles that we are not winning”.

According to the UN chief, the Forum’s final message is “to clearly say, we are determined to address the challenge of climate change but it’s not only the Pacific that is at stake, it’s the whole planet and even the most developed countries in the world will face dramatic impacts.”

“What we ask for is not solidarity, it’s not generosity, it is enlightened self-interest from all decision-makers around the world”, concluded the Secretary-General.

UN chief asks nations to make 4 shifts for climate action

By Deepak Arora

Secretary-General António Guterres attends a morning breakfast with climate action-focused Maori and Pasifika youth. UN Photo/Mark GartenAUCKLAND, May 12: Speaking to young Māoris and people of the Pacific islands in New Zealand on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “nature does not negotiate” and emphasized four key measures that Governments should prioritize in order to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

Acknowledging the role that youth needs to play in advancing climate action worldwide, he reminded the room of our common “central objective: not to have more than 1.5 degrees of increasing temperature at the end of the century. The international community, and especially the scientific community, has been very clear that to reach this goal we absolutely need to have carbon neutrality by 2050.”

For this, he called on nations worldwide to make four pivotal shifts:

1. Tax pollution, not people: The UN chief called for an emphasis to be placed on taxes on carbon emissions, known as “carbon pricing,” instead of being placed on salaries.

2. Stop subsidizing fossil fuels: He stressed that taxpayer money should not be used to increase the frequency of hurricanes, the spread of drought and heatwaves, the melting of glaciers and the bleaching of corals.

3. Stop building new coal plants by 2020: Coal-based power is key according to UN-environment’s 2018 Emissions Gap Report: all plants currently in operation are committing the world to around 190 giga tonnes of CO2, and if all coal power plants currently under construction go into operation and run until the end of their technical lifetime, emissions will increase by another 150 giga tonnes, jeopardizing our ability to limit global warming by 2°C as agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

4. Focus on a green economy not a grey economy: “It is very important that around the world young people, civil society and those that in the business community have understood that the green economy is the economy of the future and the grey economy has no future,” said Mr. Guterres. “It’s very important that you convince governments that they must act because there’s still a lot of resistance,” he told the youth gathered in the room.

“Governments are still afraid to move forward,” he deplored explaining that “they feel the costs of climate action forgetting that the costs of inaction are much bigger than any costs of climate action”.

“Nature does not negotiate,” he added. “It’s very good to see youth in the frontline.”

On 23 September, the UN chief is convening a Climate Change Summit to galvanize increased ambition for decisive climate action.

 

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