Secretary-General’s Press Conference on Climate Change at C40 World Mayors Summit
Copenhagen, 10 October 2019
Secretary-General: This is my first international visit since the Climate Action Summit in New York – and it is fitting that it is here in Denmark.
Copenhagen is a global climate action leader.
And the C40 is where the world’s mayors are showing they are at the forefront of tackling the climate emergency.
I called the Climate Action Summit last month to serve as a springboard to set us on the right path ahead of the crucial 2020 deadlines established by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
And many leaders – from many countries and sectors – stepped up.
A broad coalition – not just governments and youth, but businesses, cities, investors and civil society – came together to move in the direction our world so desperately needs to avert climate catastrophe.
More than 70 countries, including Denmark, committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, even, and this even is extremely important, if major emitters have not yet done so.
And, particularly in relation to coal, I am particularly worried and I am very grateful for the initiative on coal that Mike Bloomberg is leading in the United States.
Far more is needed to heed the call of science and cut greenhouse emissions by 45 percent by 2030; reach carbon neutrality by 2050; and limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century. And these are the goals we must be able to achieve.
So cities are critical, and they are largely where the battle will be won or lost.
Cities are responsible for more than 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing their footprint is absolutely vital.
They are also in the front lines of the impacts of climate change, especially coastal cities and the most vulnerable urban dwellers.
Today, about four billion people live in urban areas, and the urban population is expected to grow by another 2.5 billion people by 2050.
Since we will be living with the infrastructure we build today, it is imperative to build that infrastructure to serve the carbon-neutral cities of tomorrow. If we build today infrastructures that are not green, we will have consequences in the decades to come.
The Climate Action Summit produced several large-scale initiatives to help advance the efforts of cities around the world.
The Leadership for Urban Climate Investment will strengthen the capacity of 2,000 cities to prepare climate action plans, creating 1,000 bankable projects while building new, innovative financing mechanisms.
The new Cities Climate Finance Gap Fund aims to raise more than 100 million euros in grants to unlock investments worth at least 4 billion euros in urban infrastructure projects.
And the Zero Carbon Buildings for All initiative brings together a strong international coalition to decarbonize the building sector and mobilize $1 trillion in finance.
City mayors and leaders are seeing the need – and the benefits – of taking action.
They know that improving the livability of a city – for example, by reducing emissions from traffic – can also improve people’s health.
And let’s not forget that according to the World Health Organization, 9 out of 10 people worldwide are exposed to air pollutants that exceed WHO air quality guidelines. This dirty air kills 7 million people a year – largely in cities – and contributes to the global climate emergency.
The C40 Summit is an important step on the journey for progress – to share best practices, and to increase the involvement of the business world, and the finance community in developing and implementing climate solutions together with the cities.
The Climate Action Summit proved that the global movement to a cleaner, greener future has started, it’s gaining momentum, the movement has begun.
But we still have a long way to go. We are not yet there.
We must do more – much more – on a global scale to deal with this global challenge.
I am very happy and proud to be here with so many climate action leaders to express my full solidarity and commitment to keep pushing for the ambition our world urgently needs.
Thank you, and of course I will take a few questions.
Question: What is your advice in terms of getting the courage and insight and clarity to make the right decisions for keeping climate change relevant?
Secretary-General: I think it is clear today that public opinions, citizens and businesses are moving more quickly than governments, so it’s important more and more to put pressure on governments to move forward.
And I’ll give you two examples. One example is taxation. People think that, oh, if you tax carbon, you are going to increase all costs, you are going to diminish our competitiveness. But if we tax carbon and with the money that you get from it, you remove taxes on income, you are in a win-win situation. Many people think that subsidies to fossil fuels are a benefit to the population. But who pays for those subsidies – the taxpayers, the population.
So I think it’s important to start having a concrete discussion to make sure that some of the worst mistakes that are made today in policies –subsidies to fossil fuels, lack of pricing for carbon – can be corrected and can be corrected in a win-win situation, and to make sure that people understand that the biggest cost is the cost of doing nothing.
And if you see the natural disasters that are happening and their impacts, you will clearly understand that it’s time for people to understand that the investment in climate action is extremely profitable.
Question: I was wondering, do you think that we need an international justice system where states could be sued in front of an international court, maybe the International Court in The Hague?
Secretary-General: I’m not a lawyer, but it is clear that there are many areas of public policy in which courts have had a role. I respect the independence of courts, and, obviously, people are entitled to present to courts their own actions and it’s for the courts to decide.
Question: [Los Angeles] Mayor Garcetti said today that he planned to ask you for a more formal role for cities in the coming climate talks. Is that something that you would support, and, if so, how would you see it working out?
Secretary-General: I strongly support [this] – first of all, my wife is Vereadora, which means deputy mayor in the city of Lisbon that is member of the C40. In my political life, I was a member of Parliament, Prime Minister, but I’ve always been in my Municipal Council and President of the Municipal Council for a few years.
I’m a true believer that decisions are better taken when they are taken closer to the people. And I’m a true believer that, as the majority of the world’s population now live in cities, a large part of the solution for the challenges of climate change, for our climate emergency, is in cities. Of course, cities have not the power to decide everything; in many aspects, central governments also operate in cities. But cities have a large area of competence in which they can do very meaningful things in relation to climate action, as they can do in relation, for instance, I’ll give you another example: single-use plastics. We abolished single-use plastics in the UN Headquarters. I would like to see more and more cities abolishing single use plastics, which is a major source of pollution in the oceans. So I think that cities are vital, too, in the fight against the climate emergency.
Question: I just wondered about the role of Europe in climate and politics. We still haven’t agreed on climate neutrality, as you know, because three countries are blocking it. And, at the same time, the member states have to hand in their national climate plans by the end of the y ear, which the Commission has judged as not sufficient so far. So where do you see Europe on the path to climate action? Secretary-General: An overwhelming majority of the European Union countries already have pledged carbon neutrality in 2050. We are waiting for the European Union to do the same, and I hope that the resistance that still exists will be removed in the near future and that Europe will be able to have a leading role in the world moving to carbon neutrality in 2050.
Question: The mayors of the cities worldwide have decided to join forces because some national governments are not doing enough. One of those countries is the United States of America, so what is your position on how the Trump administration tackles the issue, retiring from international agreements on climate?
Secretary-General: It is clear for me that it is very important that all governments not only be part of the various agreements, but increase their commitments through the Nationally Determined Contributions that will have to be presented in 2020 in line with the Paris Agreement. We need more ambition, and I asked all countries, all governments to do so. And obviously, I regret, in relation to those governments that will not be able to do so.
What is also true is that climate action is not a monopoly of governments, and what this gathering represents, as many other gatherings represent, is that today, the leadership in the world of climate action is less with governments and more with the business community, the cities, the regions, the civil society and public opinions. And I see that governments more and more being dragged by these trends, and I hope that the same will happen everywhere.
Question: I have a question about because recently, you’re referred to combating climate change as a battle of our lives. One thing is that climate policies take trillions of dollars to invest in and we can only make a tiny bit of difference with trillions of dollars. Studies have shown that the richer a country becomes, the more capable they are and combating air pollution and all sorts of things. So shouldn’t our top priority be lifting people out of poverty so that we have the ability to actually combat these problems? And at the same time, renewable energy sources are not as sophisticated as they need to be in order for people to divest from fossil fuels and use them instead?
Secretary-General: There is no contradiction between fighting poverty and addressing climate change. The idea that that contradiction exists, of course, has been manipulated by many to try to fight climate action. But now, if you look at renewable energy, renewable energy today is cheaper than fossil fuel-driven energy.
So, if you want to fight poverty, you need to invest more in renewable energy. If you look at jobs, nothing is more important – jobs to fight poverty. More jobs are created now in renewable energy than it was in fossil fuel energy.
To bet on the green economy is to bet on the economy of the future, and it is to bet on the fight against poverty. The problem is that we are still spending a lot of money subsidizing fossil fuels, subsidizing big corporations, and that might be much better used to simultaneously fight climate change and address the needs of the poor.