Article / 11 Oct, 2019
Guterres: “Cities Are Where the Climate Battle Will Largely Be Won or Lost”

UN Climate Change News, 11 October 2019 - In a speech today at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that cities were where the climate battle will largely be won or lost, calling mayors “the world’s first responders to the climate emergency."

With cities accounting for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions, he said the choices that will be made on urban infrastructure in the coming decades – on construction, housing, energy efficiency, power generation and transport – will have a "tremendous influence on the emissions curve."

To bend the emissions curve, he said nations must continue to increase climate ambition and submit new and improved national climate action plans by 2020, telling the mayors: “You, and the cities you lead, are at the heart of this race.”

With nearly seven out of every 10 people expected to live in urban areas by 2050, he said that without climate-conscious urban planning the consequences would be profound, and said he was pleased that the C40 network is leading the way.

He acknowledged that many mayors were already delivering on bold commitments, and asked them to “keep collaborating, innovating and raising ambition,” urging that "we all need to push further and faster.”

Read full speech:

Dear friends, allow me to start by confessing my original sin.
 
I have almost 30 years of political engagement in my own country and I never became a mayor.
 
But during those 30 years, I was always a member of the Municipal Council of my constituency. I chaired it for a number of years, and I always felt that I would not be able to deliver – namely when I became Prime Minister – if I had not a clear picture about what the people really want. And the only place where we really have a clear picture about what the people really want is when we work at the local level and municipal level, so I'm enormously happy to be with all of you today. And even more happy because with you is the Mayor of Lisbon, and my wife is part of his team in charge of culture in the capital of my own country.
 
So, allow me, even if I was never Mayor, to feel at home in this gathering
 
Friends,
 
Cities are where the climate battle will largely be won or lost.
 
With more than half the world’s population, cities are on the frontlines of sustainable and, as the Prime Minister [of Denmark] said, inclusive development.
 
With air pollution a grave and growing issue, people look to you to champion better urban air quality.
 
With environmental degradation driving migration to urban areas, people rely on you to make your cities havens for diversity, social cohesion and job creation.
 
You are the world’s first responders to the climate emergency.
 
Cities have an enormous climate footprint, consuming more than two-thirds of the world’s energy and accounting for more than 70 per cent of global CO2 emissions.
 
The choices that will be made on urban infrastructure in the coming decades – on construction, housing, energy efficiency, power generation and transport – will have tremendous influence on the emissions curve.
 
So, I am delighted to be addressing a group committed to making the transformation we need in our world.
 
Let us make no mistake, we are facing an urgent crisis.
 
The climate emergency threatens the viability of human societies on this planet.
 
The Paris Agreement represents, it is true, a powerful opportunity to change course, but its promise has yet to be fulfilled.
 
Climate change is moving faster than we are, exceeding worst case projections.
 
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear what we must do.
 
We must stabilize temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
 
To get there, we must reduce emissions by at least 45 per cent by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050, and that is the best available science today.
 
However, current national climate action plans get us nowhere close to these goals.
 
We are on pace for a catastrophic 3-degree or more rise.
 
This would be devastating for humanity, and make the world’s Sustainable Development Goals totally unachievable.
 
We have the knowledge, the technology and the resources to address the climate emergency and to promote sustainable and inclusive development for all.
 
What is still missing at many levels is political will.
 
That is why I invited nations, cities, and businesses to come to a Climate Action Summit last month in New York, together with the governments.
 
The ask was simple: dramatically boost climate action plans at all levels.
 
Many of the attendees delivered.
 
More than 70 countries committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, even – and this “even” is very important – even though major emitters have yet to do so. 
 
We still have large parts of the world with a coal addiction. We still have an absolutely unacceptable number of new coal power plants being planned for the years to come, especially in East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, but a little bit in other parts of the world, even if we have to recognize namely here in Europe, several countries have already decided to phase out coal in the near future.
 
At least 70 countries announced their intention to enhance their national plans by 2020, but it is not yet clear, when we will come to Glasgow, what kinds of Nationally Determined Contributions will come out of it.
 
Some 100 cities during the Summit did the same, including, of course, many members of the C40 network, and I want to thank you for your leadership.
 
A group of the world’s largest asset-owners – responsible for more than $2 trillion dollars – pledged to move to carbon-neutral investment portfolios by 2050.
 
This was in addition to a recent call by asset managers representing nearly half the world’s invested capital – some $34 trillion dollars – a call for global leaders to put a meaningful price on carbon, to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and thermal coal power worldwide.
 
We must build on this momentum.
 
And it is true that today we can see business, cities and the society moving faster than governments are, so it’s very important to go on putting as much pressure as possible on governments to make sure that they always, always accept our carbon neutrality objective for 2050.
 
To bend the emissions curve, nations must continue to increase climate ambition and submit new and improved national climate action plans by 2020.
 
You, and the cities you lead, are at the heart of this race.
 
By 2050, nearly seven out of every 10 people will live in urban areas.
 
Over 90 per cent of this growth will take place in developing nations.
 
Without climate-conscious urban planning, the consequences will be profound.
 
I am pleased that the C40 network is leading the way.
 
More than 80 cities are now committed to your Deadline 2020 initiative to meet the Paris goals.
 
And, in the context of the C40’s Planetary Health Diet for All initiative, mayors will work with other levels of government and businesses to use their procurement and other powers to help people consume a healthier, more climate-friendly diet, and this is also critical for climate change.
 
Food consumption is responsible for 13 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in C40 cities, with meat and dairy consumption making up 75 per cent of that total.
 
I also welcome the C40 Clean Air Cities initiative to meet World Health Organization Air Quality guidelines.
 
Nine out of 10 people breathe unsafe air, and this is unacceptable.
 
Some cities are already taking important action.
 
Copenhagen has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025, as we have heard again today.
 
Meanwhile, its recycling policies are helping to avoid 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.
 
Even several African cities – including Durban and Nairobi – have installed air quality sensors to better monitor air pollution, and I commend such efforts.
 
But we all need to push further and faster, and I ask you to lead in four key areas.
 
First, I challenge you to align your procurement, infrastructure development, zoning, urban planning, building codes, transport systems, waste disposal and investments with the Paris Agreement, the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
 
Second, strengthen your national climate action plans and accelerate their implementation.
 
Third, promote new investment and finance opportunities.  Many of your cities are innovators with respect to local finance -- issuing green bonds, reforming property taxes to reduce urban sprawl, and leveraging your collaboration with the private sector.
 
But many cities -- particularly small and medium-sized cities – currently lack the capacity to make use of such opportunities.
 
I urge you to partner with them to promote investments in climate-friendly urban development. 
 
Fourth, I want to emphasize the importance of a just transition to low-emission and climate-resilient societies where no one is left behind.
 
I think the Prime Minister [of Denmark] was extremely right: of course, it is clear that today renewable energy is creating more jobs than fossil fuels and coal, but it’s difficult to explain that to a coal miner.
 
So we need to make sure that we have the social policies that are able to address the anxieties and concerns of those can be victims of climate action, even if that climate is absolutely essential to rescue the planet and to solve our problems.
 
And so we need to have in education, in lifelong learning, in social policies, in the safety networks – all the measures necessary for the green action, the climate action, to also take into account the interests of the people that will be inevitably impacted negatively by them and bringing them also into this.
 
It is essential to have all public opinions solidly supporting the objectives we have to reach carbon neutrality by 2015.
 
Dear friends,
 
I know many of you are already delivering on bold commitments.
 
I ask you to keep collaborating, innovating and raising ambition.
 
The UN system will do everything we can to support your efforts, and we need to get on the road to carbon neutrality for all cities and nations by 2050.
 
We need to achieve our 1.5-degree goal.
 
And we need to protect the ecosystems and the biodiversity that sustain us.
 
So, let us continue to work together for peace, prosperity, dignity and opportunity for all people on a healthy planet.
 
I thank you very much for your leadership.


Originally, these remarks were published by the United Nations here.