UN Climate Speech / 05 Sep, 2019
The Road Towards 2050 – European Collaboration on CCS

UN Climate Change News, 5 September 2019– Today, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa spoke at the European High Level Conference on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in Oslo, organized by the Norwegian Government and the European Commission and attended by European Ministers and industrial leaders.

In her speech, she stated that climate change is moving faster than we are, and that we’re on pace for a 3 degrees Celsius temperature rise or more, a scenario, that “will profoundly and negatively impact on the global economy. This is why we need to take action to address it – nations and businesses working together.”

While CCS is an exciting set of technologies offering opportunities to reduce emissions, she said, we should consider them as part of a combination of tools that include land, air and fresh water. “Carbon capture and storage is not a destination, but a transition from our current fossil fuel dependent reality to a climate-neutral future by 2050,” she said.

Read the full speech here:

I thank the European Commission and the Government of Norway for hosting this important conference on carbon capture and storage.

I’d also like to recognize the ministers and industrial leaders who are here to share their views, positions and knowledge about these technologies…

technologies that are an important part of the mix that we need to accelerate the clean energy transition to bring Europe—and the entire world—to climate neutrality by 2050.

Ladies and gentlemen, humanity is in an extremely difficult position with respect to climate change.

The science is absolutely clear: climate change is an existential crisis—one that is no longer a distant threat but a clear and present danger.

It has become the norm that every day we have news about extreme weather events.

It has been reported yesterday that Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record,  stalled out and barely moved as it pummeled the Bahamas and it is now moving towards the US.

It has flooded neighborhoods, destroyed homes and left several people dead.

The exact toll of Dorian’s destruction in the Bahamas will not be clear until an on-site assessment can be made, but it’s already evident that recovery could take years and cause insurance industry losses of up to $25 billion.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged. The tourism industry on the island, on which it is strongly dependent, will also be affected, leaving a deficit in economic funding to the area.

It is a fact that climate change is moving indeed faster than we are.

The Paris Agreement states we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5C. But national climate action plans, as they currently stand, get us nowhere close. Instead, we’re on pace for a 3C rise or more.

We simply cannot predict the future for humanity in this scenario. It will profoundly and negatively impact the global economy.

A list of the top 10 cities at risk from sea level rise by 2070—ranked by assets at risk—includes Miami at $3.5 trillion, Guangzhou at $3.3 trillion, New York and Kolkata at roughly $2 trillion. Mumbai and Tokyo come in at just over $1 trillion each.

The impacts to the global economy if even only one of these cities is inundated would be enormous. And sea level rise is only one impact of climate change. Wildfires, droughts, flooding—all are impacting the global economy.

This is why we need to take action to address it—nations and businesses working together; every one of us has to get on board!

Many of you represent businesses related to energy and fossil fuels.

You are also part of the solution to achieving climate neutrality. I recognize that fossil fuels—the energy industry—have helped humanity make incredible progress.

But there can be little doubt that this has had consequences on the environment and we cannot continue to do business as we have.

And the argument that business success is incompatible with climate action and sustainable development is—as UN Secretary General António Guterres has said—complete nonsense.  

The truth is that businesses who are not preparing right now for a more sustainable and climate-neutral future are those who will likely not be around in the future.

I recently participated in a panel with Peter Bakker, who heads up the World Business Council for Sustainable Development—a well-respected, global, CEO-led organization of over 200 leading businesses working to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world.

He pointed to four main advantages for businesses that embrace the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals—or the SDGs. Stemming climate change is not only one of those goals, it affects all the others.

The first advantage is capturing opportunity. The recent Better Business, Better World report points to at least $12 trillion of market value which could be opened up by 2030 if the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are reached, helping to create 380 million jobs in the process.

The second advantage is better risk management. The SDGs can help business understand emerging operational, regulatory and reputational risks.

The third one refers to a social contract. Bakker said that around the world populism is growing, largely due to rising concern that the system is no longer serving the many. This includes business.

Through aligning with the shared purpose of the SDGs, companies can forge an improved social contract. 

The fourth and final advantage is access to finance. Companies that demonstrate positive impact on the SDGs will be better placed to secure enhanced access to finance.

After all, institutional investors are increasingly aligning their portfolios with the SDG goals, and new financial instruments are emerging – such as special bonds, blended finance models, and facilitated loans that reward strong SDG performance.

All of these advantages are available. But they depend on achieving our development and climate goals. And that means stabilizing global temperature rise to 1.5C and achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

We recognize that a large majority of EU members support a net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050. We encourage further progress in this direction. It’s absolutely necessary.

But we also recognize this won’t happen overnight. The reality is that even as nations diversify their energy portfolios—and many are taking important steps to do so—fossil fuels are still expected to meet a significant part of the world’s energy demand for several years to come.

Also, some energy intensive industries cannot fully eliminate their emissions. The technological solutions are just not there yet.

Clearly, we need a variety of solutions in the short-to-medium term to help make the long-term transition towards climate neutrality.

As stated in its Special Report on 1.5C, the IPCC says that in addition to accelerating efforts to reduce emissions, we also need the deployment of technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

It states: “All pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot project the use of carbon dioxide removal.”

There are several important and exciting projects around the world where these technologies are already in use.

Right here in the city of Oslo you have the waste incineration plant – which together with other several industries are participating in the development of the full-scale CCS Project – an extremely valuable initiative for the achievements of the goals under the Paris Agreement.

But technology is also not the only option we have. The Report also describes existing and potential carbon dioxide removal measures, as including “afforestation and reforestation, land restoration and soil carbon sequestration, direct air carbon capture and storage, enhanced weathering and ocean alkalinization.

This tells us two things. First, that while carbon capture and storage is an exciting set of technologies offering opportunities to reduce emissions, we should consider them as part of a combination of tools that we must utilize to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The other tools we have are beneath our feet and above our heads: the delicate web of life that supports us. Land and air—as well as fresh water—are humanity’s best assets and enormously beneficial not only to daily living, but reducing the impact of our emissions.

This was the subject of the IPCC’s most recent report, their report on land and air. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so.

The report also reminds us that land is both a source and a sink of greenhouse gases, and plays a key role in the exchange of energy, water and aerosols between the land surface and atmosphere.

That leads us to the second important point: that carbon capture and storage—at least as a strategy for business—is not a destination, but a transition.

It’s a transition from our current fossil-fuel dependent reality to a climate neutral future by 2050.

If companies assume that they can continue with a high-emissions, business-as-usual pace, while balancing that indefinitely with carbon capture and storage—they are wrong. That math simply doesn’t add up—for business or the planet.

Business-as-usual simply isn’t good enough anymore. If businesses—or society for that matter—want ongoing prosperity in the 21st century, our trajectory must be in one unwavering direction: towards reducing emissions. Period.

Before I close, I want to note that as we continue this trajectory, we cannot forget about those employed in these businesses. We must recognize their unique needs and ensure that we plan properly to ensure they make this transition in a fair manner.

Yet it’s a transition we must make—not just here in Europe but throughout the world.

The costs of not taking more ambitious climate action is ultimately the more detrimental one—to businesses, to communities—to all of us. We must work together at all levels to ensure a just transition for all.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I’ve discussed today, carbon capture and storage is a powerful element of an overall strategy that—if we capitalize upon it properly—can help lead to the deep transformation that society must make towards ultimately achieving a carbon-neutral future.

I look forward to working with you to achieve it. Thank you.