The European Union has an opportunity to transform the fight against climate change by going all in on clean energy policy in the lead-up to the COP26 global environmental conference on Dec. 12, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a virtual speech to the European Council on Foreign Relations on Nov. 19.
Guterres applauded the EU for playing a leading role in efforts to go carbon neutral and develop a post-fossil fuel world, but warned that “we are still nowhere near the finish line” and “still running behind in the race against time.” He said that the EU should fully implement its proposed “Next Generation EU” stimulus package that was conceived in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This plan could unlock $1.85 trillion in funds that would partly go toward investing in clean energy infrastructure, improving energy efficiency in key sectors such as transportation and agriculture, and transitioning workers in environmentally hazardous professions.
“The decisions taken now on how the funding will be allocated will shape the direction of travel for years to come,” Guterres said. “It is essential that the European Union accelerates its transition toward clean energy.
“The proposals of the European Union to speed up this shift in a way which confronts inequality and protects those affected by the transition can set a powerful example to the rest of the world,” he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived at a pivotal moment in the global effort to decarbonize the world.
Going into 2020, countries had failed to take the steps necessary to prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which is the goal of the Paris climate agreement. Then the pandemic arrived and economies seized up around the world. Governments used the break in global economic momentum to propose “green economic recovery” plans that could revive industries and get people back to work in ways that also reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
At the moment, more than 110 countries have pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050, a promising but insufficient development. Unless countries accelerate decarbonization efforts by 2030, then severe climate change will be all but locked in.
The EU has proposed one of the most ambitious green economic recovery plans in the world and its full implementation could set the tone for a decade defined by resources being mobilized to fight climate change.
In his speech, Guterres urged EU countries, along with other donor nations, to invest $100 billion annually in developing countries and countries most vulnerable to climate shocks through the UN’s Green Climate Fund.
Climate action is ultimately a matter of justice. The countries least responsible for the growing environmental crisis are the most impacted by its consequences. Gutterres urged countries throughout the EU and beyond to use their influence to call for climate justice during COP26.
“The European Union has a crucial role in ensuring that developing countries in need have the necessary support to recover sustainably from COVID-19 and to enhance their own climate ambition — through assistance for mitigation, adaptation and resilience,” Guterres said.
“It is essential that we leave no one behind as we build a global coalition working towards a net-zero emissions future,” he added.
The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has hurt the world’s poorest countries the most. As a result, Guterres called on EU countries to “use their influence in multilateral financial institutions” to call for the reduction and cancellation of debt held by developing countries. If this debt is relieved, then developing countries will be better able to fund their own green economic recoveries, while also rebounding more fully from the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic — like climate change — shows how countries are intertwined. Only when countries work together, share resources, and make sacrifices toward a greater global good, will threats such as environmental ruin and ravenous pathogens be contained.
“The EU has been building solidarity with the most vulnerable countries around the world,” Gutteres said. “I urge the European Union to seize these opportunities — and answer this call — for people everywhere, for prosperity and for the planet we all share and depend on.”