Key measures to help SSA recover from climate change and COVID-19
Key measures to help SSA recover from climate change and COVID-19. Source: Pixabay.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on governments to incorporate meaningful climate action into all aspects of recovery from COVID-19.

Addressing ministers via a virtual meeting on sustainable recovery from the global pandemic last week, the UN Chief said the world is confronted by two urgent crises, namely COVID-19 and climate change.

“Let us tackle both and leave future generations with the hope that this moment is a true turning point for people and planet,” said Guterres.

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The virtual ministerial meeting was convened by the government of Japan. It ran in parallel with the launch of the Platform for Redesign 2020, an online platform for sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19.

The platform will be a hub to collate countries’ climate and other environmental policies and actions that are planned and implemented in the context of recovery from COVID-19.

Guterres outlined six climate-positive actions for a sustainable recovery – investing in green jobs; not bailing out polluting industries; ending fossil fuel subsidies; accounting for climate risk in all financial and policy decisions; working together, and leaving no one behind.

“The world’s top investors – some in Japan – are abandoning fossil fuels because renewables are cheaper and more efficient. They understand that it makes no economic sense to burn money on coal plants that will soon become stranded assets,” said the UN chief.

Climate change must be addressed by the G20

He called on all countries, especially members of the top industrialised nations collectively known as the G20, to commit to carbon neutrality before 2050. He urged them to submit more ambitious nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies aligned to the goal of limiting a global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celcius.

Addressing an emergency meeting of G20 foreign ministers on the COVID-19 crises, Guterres noted the pandemic has forced “unprecedented lockdowns, travel suspensions and limited movements across borders”.

“Concerns are growing that some of the current movement restrictions could outlast the immediate crises,” noted Guterres.

Addressing the G20 foreign ministers he highlighted five focus areas for discussion. First, he urged all to seek agreement on common objective criteria based on scientific evidence, relating to the removal of travel restrictions.

Secondly, he called for “investment in systems and practices that support safe travel, in close coordination with the private sector.”

Thirdly, Guterres called for better coordination on preventive measures, “in particular more systematic use of testing and tracing and other proven actions to avoid the spread of the virus and allow for effective control of the potential impacts of increased mobility.”

Fourthly, he highlighted the importance of respect for international human rights and refugee law. Lastly called for agreement that future vaccines must be considered a global public good. Vaccines should therefore be “available and affordable everywhere, supporting global health, global mobility and global economic recovery”.

Fighting the pandemic and climate change together on the way to COP26

Guterres pointed out there was still a long way to go on two key fronts, first being in the world’s capacity to fight the pandemic together. “We have seen the results when each country pursues its own strategy, with the advice of the World Health Organisation being largely disregarded. When countries go in different directions, the virus goes in every direction.

“Second, we still lack effective international solidarity to respond to the economic and social impacts and the underlying fragilities exposed by the pandemic,” said Guterres.

The Platform for Redesign 2020 will help build momentum for COP26, the UN conference that will assess progress in dealing with climate change scheduled for 2021.