United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized the need for countries to work toward carbon neutrality and defeat the COVID-19 pandemic at the virtual third annual Bloomberg New Economy Forum on Monday.
“2021 must be the year of a great leap towards carbon neutrality,” Guterres said. “Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050.”
The forum is a global town hall where governments, business executives, technology innovators, and global experts come together to discuss the importance of a strong and healthy economy.
This year’s event, "Getting Well, Sticking Together, Owning the Future", covered three topics: the effects of COVID-19; the relationship between China and the US; and what the world will look like in 2050.
The "Owning the Future" section focused on understanding the impact of climate change and the importance of achieving carbon neutrality.
Carbon neutrality means an equal balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. To achieve carbon neutrality, fossil fuel emissions must be phased out and replaced by energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.
One of the Paris Agreement’s goals is to stop global temperatures from rising by 2 degrees celsius. Other organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change recommend limiting that threshold to just 1.5 degrees.
The scientific community believes that to slow the rise of global temperatures, carbon neutrality by 2050 is essential.
However, one study by Nature Climate Change found that there is currently only a 1% chance the rise will be less than 1 degree and a 95% chance that the Earth will warm more than 2 degrees by the end of the century.
Guterres stressed the need for urgent change to phase out coal and transition to renewable energy sources.
A special report by Bloomberg for the event found that global warming will cause economic harm. The physical costs of climate change are already estimated to be 1% of global GDP. Economic forecasts suggest that the number could rise to 2% by 2050. If there is no effort to mitigate climate change now, that number could be 9% in 2100.
These numbers could be even higher as they do not account for the cost of mass migration, conflict, or other crises caused by warmer temperatures.
In 2020, the EU, Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, and 110 other countries announced their pledges to achieving carbon neutrality.
“By early 2021, countries representing more than 65% of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70% of the world economy are very likely to have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality,” Guterres said.
Guterres also called for developing and lower-income countries to be included in these initiatives. Partnerships with organizations like Global Investors for Sustainable Development and the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance will be vital in supporting these countries and ensuring a global effort.
Guterres acknowledged that the international community is focused on responding to the pandemic. However, he stressed that it is dangerous to ignore the environment.
“The pandemic has shown that we can think big and act big in the face of an emergency,” he said. “We have crucial decisions to make in the weeks and months ahead. Let’s get it right.”