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UN Secretary-General: Every country and every company needs to make a plan for net-zero emissions

In a speech, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called on the world to commit to strong climate change goals now.

UN Secretary-General: Every country and every company needs to make a plan for net-zero emissions
[Photo: Sasha5/iStock]
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Hundreds of businesses, investors, cities, countries, and universities now plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, meaning that any of their greenhouse gas emissions that remain by then will be offset by carbon removal. Some are moving faster: Microsoft and Ikea, for example, plan to be carbon negative—they’ll remove more carbon than they their operations produce—by 2030. In a speech today, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said that every organization and government now needs to set a similar goal.

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“The central objective of the United Nations for 2021 is to build a truly global coalition for carbon neutrality,” he says. “Every country, city, financial institution, and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050—and take decisive action now to put themselves on the right path towards achieving this vision, which means cutting global emissions by 45% by 2030 compared with 2010 levels.”

The stakes have never been higher. “Humanity is waging war on nature,” he says. “This is suicidal.” This year, likely to be the hottest year on record, also broke other records: record hurricanes in the Atlantic, record wildfires in California, record low sea ice in the Arctic. As global temperatures continue to rise, extreme weather and other impacts from climate change will worsen.

“Every tenth of a degree of warming matters,” says Guterres. “Today, we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and already witnessing unprecedented climate extremes and volatility in every region and on every continent. We are headed for a thundering temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century. The science is crystal clear: to limit temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the world needs to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% every year between now and 2030. Instead, the world is going in the opposite direction—planning an annual increase of 2%.”

A growing number of countries have set net-zero goals. China—the world’s biggest polluter—said in September that it planned to become carbon neutral by 2060. In October, two weeks after Guterres called for UN Member States to commit to carbon neutrality, Japan said that it planned to hit the goal by 2050; South Korea followed two days later. The European Union made the same commitment earlier in the year. The Biden administration plans to do the same in the U.S. Several other countries already have legally binding targets to get to net-zero emissions by the middle of the century, including the U.K. and New Zealand. But after setting the goals, they need to go farther.

“We need all governments to translate these pledges into policies, plans, and targets with specific timelines,” Guterres says. “This will provide certainty and confidence for businesses and the financial sector to invest for net-zero. It is time to put a price on carbon. To phase out fossil fuel finance and end fossil fuel subsidies. To stop building new coal power plants, and halt coal power financing domestically and overseas. To shift the tax burden from income to carbon, and from taxpayers to polluters. To integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal policies and decisions. And to make climate-related financial risk disclosures mandatory.”

Since humans caused the climate emergency, he says, humans can also help solve it. Everyone has a role to play. “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century,” he says. “It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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