UN chief: Use pandemic to 'rebuild our world for the better'

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Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General displayed on a screen at the Environment Ministry as he delivers his speech at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Due to the coronavirus crisis, the conference will only be held digitally. (Michael Kappeler/Pool via AP)

BERLIN – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres challenged leaders Tuesday to use the coronavirus pandemic to “rebuild our world for the better” by also working together to tackle other global threats such as climate change.

The outbreak has resulted in at least 200,000 deaths globally and widespread economic hardship as countries impose lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus.

“It has exposed the fragility of our societies and economies to shocks,” the United Nations chief said, adding that “the only answer is brave, visionary and collaborative leadership.”

“The same leadership is needed to address the looming existential threat of climate disruption," Guterres, noting that the past decade was the hottest in history since measurements began.

Speaking by video link at a two-day international conference on global warming, Guterres warned that the cost of inaction on climate change would be immense, but said that “technology is on our side.”

“These are dark days, but they are not without hope,” Guterres said. “We have a rare and short window of opportunity to rebuild our world for the better.”

“Let us use the pandemic recovery to provide a foundation for a safe, healthy, inclusive and more resilient world for all people,” he added.

The U.N. chief called on all countries to commit to pumping no more carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere by 2050, and proposed a six-point plan to ensure climate change features prominently in government efforts to recover from the pandemic.

The steps proposed by Guterres include making sure that trillions in stimulus spending boost green jobs and sustainable businesses

“Where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it must be creating green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth,” he said. “It must not be bailing out outdated, polluting, carbon-intensive industries.”

This includes ending fossil fuel subsidies and making sure that polluters pay for the damage they cause, he said.

The French government is requiring companies that receive state bailouts to use the money to become more environmentally sustainable. But climate campaigners have noted that recipients include national carrier Air France, which is reopening domestic routes to cities that also have high-speed rail connections.

The U.N. chief warned that just like the pandemic, climate change can't be tackled by any one nation on its own.

“Like the coronavirus, greenhouse gases respect no boundaries,” said Guterres. “Isolation is a trap. No country can succeed alone.”

Together, the Group of 20 major developed and emerging economies accounts for more than 80% of global emissions, Guterres said.

“The Paris Agreement was largely made possible by the engagement of the United States and China,” he said. “Without the contribution of the big emitters, all our efforts will be doomed.”

Scientists have warned that there’s little time left if the world wants to achieve the headline goal of the 2015 Paris climate accord — keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally 1.5 C (2.7 F). Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has moved to withdraw from the agreement.

Guterres also urged the European Union to show “global leadership” by presenting updated emissions reduction plans by the end of the year that would put it on course to become the first climate neutral continent by 2050.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated Tuesday that her country was willing to support a more ambitious emissions reduction target for the EU by 2030, from 40% at the moment to as much as 55%. Such an increase would likely require Germany, which has Europe's biggest economy, to make even steeper cuts nationally to balance out lower reductions by other countries in the bloc.

She cautioned that the drop in emissions likely seen due to the pandemic 's effect on the global economy would be temporary and shouldn't prompt countries to lessen their efforts to cut greenhouse gases.

Merkel's speech to the annual Petersberg Climate Dialogue was beset by technical difficulties at the start. Another planned speaker, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, didn't attend after recently falling ill with COVID-19. He returned to work Monday.

Johnson's deputy, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, told participants by video link from London that when the threat from coronavirus recedes “it will be the duty of every responsible government to see that our economies are revived and rebuilt in a way that will stand the test of time.”

“That means investing in industries and infrastructure that can turn the tide on climate change,” he said. "And it means doing all we can to boost resilience by shaping economies that can withstand everything that nature throws at us.”


Read all the AP stories about the impact of climate change at https://apnews.com/Climate