UN Secretary-General: We created this mess. But there’s hope. We can get out of it.

By Asitha Jayawardena

“We are facing a devastating pandemic” is nothing new. We have heard it from various leaders, say 8 or 9 months now. It would go on for another year at least – who knows.

However, this time it came from the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres. In a speech organised by Columbia University in New York on 2 December 2020, he said it.

Two reports by WMO and UNEP

It happened on the day that two reports on climate change were published by World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

2020 is among the three of the world’s warmest years on record, said the first one by WMO.

To limit the global rise of temperature to 1.5oC, as the Paris Agreement recommends in 2015, the world must reduce the fossil fuel production by roughly 6% every year between now and 2030, said the second one by UNEP.

We are in this mess but…

Guterres named the culprit of this mess – human beings – but, again, he had hope that we would get together to sort out the mess.

“Let’s be clear: human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos,” he said. “But that means human action can help solve it.” He was referring to the Paris Agreement in 2015.  

And how to do that?

“Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century,” he said. “It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.” He implied that technology-driven solutions are down the line but, first of all, we must make peace with nature.

Covid-19 is an opportunity

Covid-19 pandemic presents an opportunity, Guterres said, meaning that Covid-19 recovery and our planet’s repair can be two sides of the same coin. He also said that it was time to flick the “green switch.”

In the Covid-19 pandemic or after a solution is found to end this, the international community not only reset the global economy but make it a sustainable one by renewable energy, he said. It will create new jobs, cleaner infrastructure and a resilient future.

Three climate imperatives

Citing the climate emergency, Guterres presented three imperatives in addressing the climate crisis.

“First, we need to achieve global carbon neutrality within the next three decades,” he said, referring to carbon neutrality and net zero emissions which should be achievable by 2030 to or as late as 2050.

“Second, we have to align global finance behind the Paris Agreement, the world’s blueprint for climate action,” he said. The commitment to net zero emissions are sending a clear signal to investors, markets and finance ministers but we need to go further, he claimed.

“Third, we must deliver a breakthrough on adaptation to protect the world – and especially the most vulnerable people and countries — from climate impacts,” he said, referring to a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience with respect to climate change.

A sustainable world

Finally, Guterres presented a blueprint: the 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“The door is open; the solutions are there,” he said. “Now is the time to transform humankind’s relationship with the natural world – and with each other. And we must do so together.”

Solidarity is humanity. Solidarity is survival,” he concluded. “That is the lesson of 2020.”

COP26 in November 2021

We as citizens feel pressure when there is less that three weeks onto 2021. In eleven months in November, we have a COP26 in Glasgow, UK.

Whether we are ready for that international summit, only time will tell.


UN Secretary-General: “Making Peace with Nature is the Defining Task of the 21st century” https://unfccc.int/news/un-secretary-general-making-peace-with-nature-is-the-defining-task-of-the-21st-century


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