'A Peace Plan for the 21st Century': UN Secretary-General urges countries to accelerate renewables transition

António Guterres warns countries are getting a ‘giant fail mark’ from scientists and the public opinion over their climate strategies

“Renewables are the peace plan of the 21st century,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres has today declared, as he reiterated calls for governments to respond to both the climate crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by doubling down on their decarbonisation strategies.

Speaking this morning at the sixth Austrian World Summit in Vienna, Guterres said: “The only true path to energy security, stable power prices, prosperity and a livable planet lies in abandoning polluting fossil fuels, especially coal, and accelerating the renewables-based energy transition.”

The summit marks the 30th anniversary of the ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when 154 states agreed a landmark international environmental treaty to combat the “dangerous human interference with the climate system”, which laid the foundations for the UN climate talks that ultimately led to the Paris Agreement and last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact.

Building on a series of stark recent warnings, Guterres said that while international climate agreements had delivered some progress most national climate pledges are “simply not good enough”.

“Science and public opinion are giving timid climate policies a giant fail mark,” he added.

To keep the 1.5C goal outlined in the Paris Agreement within reach, the UN has said the international community must reduce emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by mid-century. In contrast, current national climate commitments are expected to lead to an increase in global emissions of almost 14 per cent this decade.

Fears are now mounting that pledges made at last year’s COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow for countries to come forward with more ambitious national climate action plans Ukraine could bed by the fallout from Russia’s invasion, which has prompted several leading exporters to approve new fossil fuel exploration projects in a bid to enhance their domestic energy security.

Guterres lamented the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but said that important lessons should be taken from the resulting impact on global energy markets, which have seen prices of coal, oil, and gas soar.

“At a time when we should all come together in the fight for our lives, senseless wars are tearing us apart,” he said. “The energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine has seen a perilous doubling down on fossil fuels by the major trade”.

Guterres added that the conflict had shown that the world’s energy mix was “broken” and that the failure to prioritise clean energy had led to increased energy insecurity. “Had we invested massively in renewable energy in the past, we would not be so at the mercy of the instability of fossil fuel markets,” he said.

As such, Guterres today reiterated his calls for governments, investors, and businesses to enact policies that can accelerate the transition to clean energy.

Setting out a new five point plan for driving renewables development, Guterres recommended removing “intellectual property barriers” to renewable energy development and treating clean technologies as a global public good. He also urged governments to take steps to improve global access to supply chains for renewable energy technologies components and raw materials, as well as reform planning bureaucracies and red tape that holds up gigawatts worth of renewables projects.

In addition, the UN Secretary-General again urged all financial actors to abandon fossil fuel finance and invest in renewable energy and repeated his long-standing call for G20 governments to dismantle coal infrastructure so as to deliver a full phase-out of unabated coal power by 2030 in all OECD countries and by 2040 in all other nations.

Completing the five-point action plan, Guterres said the world should shift energy subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy – while addressing potential consequences for those most directly impacted by the economic transition – so as to deliver a rapid tripling of overall investment in renewables .

In addition, he warned that alongside a huge increase in clean technology investment, governments needed to ramp up spending on climate resilience measures.

“As climate impacts worse, we must also invest far more in adaptation and resilience building to protect lives and livelihoods,” Guterres concluded. “This requires an elevating adaptation action onto an equal footing with efforts to cut emissions, doubling adaptation finance from 2019 levels.

“And it means ensuring that every person on Earth is protected by early warning systems within five years. I count on this meeting to amplify these messages.”

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