Governments blocking path to carbon-neutral future, UN chief warns

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 24 September 2020 19:52 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Environmental and banking system protestors demonstrate outside the Bank of England demanding that the bank rule out investment in high-carbon sectors in London, Britain July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

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Besides instituting their own net-zero emissions plans, governments must create the conditions for others to do the same, Guterres says

By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA, Sept 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Governments worldwide are still putting obstacles in the way of economies making the transition to become carbon-neutral by mid-century, an effort needed to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the head of the United Nations said on Thursday.

Besides instituting their own plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, governments must create the conditions to allow companies, cities, civil society groups and other organisations to do the same, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged.

He called on governments to reform regulations and policies that currently go against action on climate change, such as financing coal-power plants and providing subsidies for the extraction and use of fossil fuels.

"Governments are an obstacle in many areas for (the) private sector and other entities to be able to establish their own (net-zero) transitions," he told the close of a virtual climate roundtable organised by the United Nations.

Guterres said one prime minister had told him it was hard to end subsidies for dirty fuels because it would hurt people's wallets. Another said he could not tax carbon pollution, as it would lose him voters.

Guterres said he advised the leaders to give financial support not to fossil fuels but to poorer people in need, and to reduce payroll taxes while boosting them on carbon emitters, a measure he said could help win elections.

The aim of government policies and regulations should be to "force everyone to have a transition plan to net-zero before 2050", he added.

Public development banks should also commit to halt lending to coal projects and boost their funding for renewables and energy efficiency, he said - a key expectation for the first global summit of those institutions in November.

Former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, now the U.N. climate finance envoy, said rules should be in place to require businesses to disclose climate risks they are exposed to by the delayed November 2021 COP26 climate summit.

At Thursday's event, Fiji's prime minister said the island nation would require all government departments to assess climate change risks to their work.

And Canada has made climate risk disclosure a condition for major firms to access COVID-19 recovery funds, Carney noted.

"What we want for COP26 is for the world to make that type of disclosure mandatory" everywhere, he said.

"It's not acceptable for our companies not to tell us where the risks are for them," he added.

At Thursday's event, many leaders said economic stimulus to boost recovery from the coronavirus pandemic should support clean energy and green technology, which can create more jobs than dirty industries.

A report published this week by research coalition Climate Action Tracker, however, said most government recovery plans it had analysed from high-emitting countries showed "only a hint of green".

Leaders from Bangladesh, Antigua and Barbuda, and other countries also emphasised the need to ramp up protection for vulnerable countries and communities facing worsening floods, storms, sea level rise and other climate change threats.

Guterres said not enough funding was being channelled into measures to adapt and become more resilient to the climate impacts that are already happening today.

He called for that work to be financed alongside efforts to reduce emissions.

"Many people are already suffering, so we need to massively support those (who) are suffering more," he said.

Read more:

Climate primer: Why is everyone talking about net-zero?

In pandemic spotlight, public banks ponder a greener role 

China pledge and Biden win could move climate goals into view, scientists say

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

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