UN chief urges governments to use pandemic to ‘rebuild our world for the better’

UN chief Antonio Guterres has said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed how fragile societies are but that if governments work together on common challenges, including global warming, it can be an opportunity to “rebuild our world for the better”.

Speaking at a two-day international meeting on climate change, the secretary-general said the only effective response to the worldwide health emergency is “brave, visionary and collaborative leadership”.

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

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

But Mr Guterres added that other big emitters also have to come on board. He noted that the G20 of major developed and emerging economies together account for more than 80% of global emissions.

“The Paris Agreement was largely made possible by the engagement of the United States and China,” he said, referring to the 2015 climate accord. “Without the contribution of the big emitters, all our efforts will be doomed.”

Under President Donald Trump, the US has moved to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which commits to keeping global warming below 2C by the end of the century.

“These are dark days, but they are not without hope,” Mr 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.”

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel (Michael Kappeler/AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated 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 be likely to require Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, to make even steeper cuts nationally to balance out lower reductions by other countries in the bloc.

She cautioned delegates at the annual Petersberg Climate Dialogue that the drop in emissions likely to be seen due to the pandemic’s effect on the global economy would be temporary and should not prompt countries to lessen their efforts to cut greenhouse gases.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told participants by videolink 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.”