Boris Johnson joins UN Secretary-General and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in calling on governments to ensure recovery plans do not exacerbate the climate crisis
The UK government has today called for Covid-19 recovery plans to bolster the fight against climate change, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab telling global leaders at a major climate summit that it is "duty of every responsible government" to reboot economies along climate-resilient lines.
"This means investing in industries and infrastructure that can turn the tide on climate change," Raab said in a pre-recorded video message broadcast this afternoon at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, which has been held virtually this year. "And it means doing everything that we can to boost resilience by shaping economies that can withstand everything that nature throws at us."
Raab joined the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and UK Business Secretary and COP26 President Alok Sharma in the 'high-level segment' of the two-day climate diplomacy conference, which was attended virtually by more than 30 environment ministers from around the world. Organised annually by Germany, the conference was co-hosted this year by the UK as incoming COP26 climate summit president. Raab delivered a short speech originally prepared for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is taking a staged return to work as he recuperates from the coronavirus.
In the session's closing statements, COP26 President Alok Sharma doubled down on his colleague's calls for governments to prioritise climate action in their recovery plans, promising the UK would work around the clock to raise the bar on climate action in the lead up to COP26, which was originally scheduled for Glasgow in November but has since postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.
"As incoming COP presidency, our promise from the UK, together with [partner] Italy, is that our teams are going to work night and day to raise the ambition on climate change, and this does mean more ambition to reduce emissions, more ambition to build resilience, and more ambition to cooperate with each other, as we have done and shown today," Sharma said in a live video message. The now extended lead up to COP26 provided a period where the world can "ramp up momentum towards climate-resilient, zero-carbon economy", he added.
Sharma said it had been "heartening" to see so many of the forthcoming UN climate conference's key pillars explored during the two-day Petersberg Climate Dialogue, highlighting the focus on the transition to clean energy and clean transport, the need for nature-based climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions, and plans to mobilise a renwed surge in green finance.
In the same session, Chancellor Merkel explicitly backed European Commission plans to introduce a European Green Deal and enhance the bloc's emissions target to a 50 to 55 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 against 1990 levels. "We will combine climate action with new economic perspectives and new jobs," Merkel added. "Let me be clear: There will be a difficult debate about the allocation of funds. But it is important that recovery programmes always keep an eye on the climate, we must not sideline climate but invest in climate technologies."
Germany, like the UK and many other major economies around the world, has been under mounting pressure from business leaders, green groups, think tanks, and economists to resist the urge to rebuild coronavirus-hit economies in carbon-intensive ways, and in the short-term avoid bailing out polluting sectors, such as aviation, without stringent environmental conditions attached.
Also joining the conference on video, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated a six-point action plan for recovery released earlier this month, which calls on government to co-operate to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, generate green jobs that invigorate shattered economies, prioritise investments that spur decarbonisation, end fossil fuel subsidies, and resist the temptation to simply bail out carbon-intensive industries.
He called on governments to submit enhanced climate plans and Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs) by the end of this year, as stipulated by the Paris Agreement, and urged the US and China - the world's largest emitters - to lead the way in adopting ambitious new decabonisation plans. "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." With G20 countries collectively accounting for more than 80 per cent of global emissions and 85 per cent of the global economy, they have a responsibility to other nations, he argued.
US President Donald Trump has promised to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement at the close of this year, but the decision would be immediately reversed should Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden win the federal election in November. China, meanwhile, is planning to submit an enhanced NDC, but observers remain unclear as to the level of decarbonisation ambition the superpower will commit to.
The UN chief's decision to single out the US and China in his remarks today follow a sobering analysis of global stimulus packages published by Vivid Economics today that warns that 10 per cent of total Covid-19 rescue investment so far has gone into environmentally-intense industries, with the US and China leading the pack when it comes to fossil-fuel friendly interventions.
However, the conference also delivered encouraging signs that some governments are responding to growing calls for them to strengthen their climate action plans and deliver green economic recovery packages.
In a question and answer session with select ministers held during today's session, Guterres endorsed a suggestion from Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi that proposed the development of an online platform where all countries could discuss how to formulate their Covid-19 recovery plans ahead of the COP26 conference. In his response, Guterres also commended Koizumi's "very strong fight to bring Japan into the group of countries that can hopefully commit to carbon neutrality by 2050".
Japan is one of a small handful of countries to already submit an updated NDC, but the document sparked an angry response from campaigners and thinly veiled criticism from leading diplomats after Tokyo declined to upgrade its existing emissions goals. However, Koizumi is known to be lobbying hard for the plan to be strengthened and in his video contribution to the conference he indicated the country would continue to reach beyond its targets. "It is not our intention to leave our national target level as it is - rather, we will aim for aspiring figures in the NDC, reflecting further ambitious emissions reduction efforts," he said, noting that a review of the country's "export policy" for coal-fired power plants would be undertaken this summer.
In his concluding statements, Guterres said it was important to draw on the similarities between the coronavirus and climate crises to help drive momentum behind global climate action. "We need to make people understand that when people say Covid and when people say climate change, we are looking at similar things: global challenges that show how fragile the world is, global challenges that show that we need global answers, global answers that are only possible in a multilateral context," he said. "We are dealing with global public goods that we must protect and enhance."
In related news, France is pushing the EU to enact policies that ensure that oil prices are maintained above a minimum level across the bloc, despite plummetting on world markets, in order to better reflect fossil fuel's climate impacts, according to reports from Euractiv.
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