In an address to the European Economic and Social Committee today, UN Climate Change Deputy Executive Secretary Ovais Sarmad called 2020 "a critical year for addressing climate change."
Mr. Sarmad said that as countries prepare to submit their new or revised national climate action plans this year, they need to show much higher ambition, since the world is currently on track towards a global temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius, double the target set out in the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement.
2020 must also be the year that the world begins to fulfill the promise of the Paris Agreement, since in the intervening five years, "climate change morphed from a serious challenge to a full-blown emergency - one affecting almost every part of the world." He said:
"Climate change does not respect politics, but our politics must respect climate change."
The UNFCCC deputy head praised the European Union's New Green Deal, which reflects that the urgency for climate action is being taken seriously. With the appetite for green change gaining traction around the world, the EU is leading by example in pursuing the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
See full speech below:
It's a pleasure to be here and share our perspective soon after our meeting at COP25 in Madrid. Moving rapidly is of utmost importance in 2020.
2020 is, after all, a critical year for addressing climate change, for protecting biodiversity, for the Sustainable Development Goals, for people around the world and for the health, safety and long-term prosperity of humanity.
We've looked to 2020 since the Paris Agreement was adopted five years ago.
It's the year work on one phase-pre-2020 climate action-concludes and the next begins.
It's also the year when nations must submit new or revised national climate action plans that are much more ambitious than they currently are.
This is crucial because these national climate action plans-or Nationally-Determined Contributions as we call them-are only submitted once every five years.
We may have reached a tipping point with respect to climate change in that time period-so it's important they are as robust as possible-certainly more than they are now. Currently, we're on track to more than double our climate goal of stabilizing global temperature rise at 1.5C.
Instead, we must work as urgently as possible-an unprecedented effort by both State and non-State actors-to achieve a tipping point in the other direction; the direction of transformational change; the direction of a healthier, safer, more sustainable and resilient future for all people.
2020 must be the year we collectively show-through concrete action-that we are truly committed to moving towards that positive tipping point.
2020 must also be the year we truly begin to fulfill the promise of the Paris Agreement. Because while many of the elements of the Agreement are in place and already functioning, the heavy lifting of implementation and raising ambition remains incomplete.
There was a sense, in 2015, that the positive energy coming out of Paris had finally set the world on the right track. It was a multilateral success story and adopted with unprecedented speed.
It was a time of great optimism: countries were on board, there was a clear sense of momentum, and, while we were not naïve enough to think our climate problems were over, we felt a great sense that nothing could slow us down.
Five years later, the world has changed. Politics has changed. Leadership has changed. Some have expressed less support for multilateralism-just when we need it most.
Climate change, of course, could care less about global politics. In those five years, climate change morphed from a serious challenge to a full-blown emergency - one affecting almost every part of the world.
Hurricanes, wildfires and floods cost the world $150 billion in 2019 and losses for business and the economy are only expected to increase, because of a decade-long rise in natural catastrophes with direct links to climate change.
Not coincidently, Planet Earth registered its second-hottest year on record in 2019, capping off a five-year period that ranks as the warmest such span in recorded history. In addition, the 2010s will go down in history as the planet's hottest decade.
In just over one year, we've had three specialized Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Reports - one on achieving the 1.5C goal, one on land and one on oceans and the cryosphere. We don't have time to dive into the details, but here's a quick summary:
The oceans are acidifying, the soil is degrading, crops are becoming less nutritious, desertification is spreading, the ice caps are melting and we're destroying biodiversity.
Climate change is not slowing down, we're not acting with enough urgency to address it.
Again: climate change does not respect politics, but our politics must respect climate change. It is the defining issue of this year, this decade, and this century.
This brings us to COP25. While we did achieve progress in some areas, for the most part we, like most, were disappointed with the results.
Namely, we were disappointed about the lack of agreement on the guidelines for much-needed carbon markets.
Operationalizing Article six is essential to get those markets operating in a way that ensures all nations and businesses use them and that the rules are the same for everyone. Achieving success on this issue remains a major task for 2020.
Parties must also address the calls from developing countries for enhanced support in finance, technology and capacity-building. They are the most vulnerable. It is also a foundational element of the Paris Agreement itself.
It must be said, however, that 151 Ministers joined us in Madrid, as well as all national delegations. And they showed a willingness to work together despite their differences to reach agreements towards more ambitious climate action in mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation.
They must complete their outstanding work and continue working towards enhanced ambition in 2020.
It won't be easy, but it's absolutely necessary. Never have strong political decisions been needed more than this year.
But we see reasons to be optimistic.
Let's look at just the news from the last two weeks.
Blackrock, the world's largest asset manager with more than (USD)$6,8 trillion under its control, announced that it has joined Climate Action 100+, a $41 trillion climate change investing pact that is pushing many of the world's largest greenhouse-gas emitters to take action on climate change.
Shipowner associations representing more than 90 per cent of the global merchant fleet recently announced they'll create a $5 billion research fund to help develop more environmentally friendly fuels and propulsion systems.
Microsoft set a new ambition among Fortune 500 companies in addressing climate change, pledging to remove as much carbon as it has emitted in its 45-year history.
We also recently heard that clean energy investment in the United States surged to a fresh record of $55.5 billion last year.
And with respect to national climate action plans I spoke about earlier, we also see some positive momentum.
114 countries have already announced they will enhance their NDCs.
And 121 countries have committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
We still have a long way to go, but-again-there is movement. The important lesson we've learned during this time is that leadership matters.
That brings us to the EU-the work that you are doing and why the EU's Green Deal is so important. The fact that it is a cornerstone of the new EU administration reflects that the urgency for climate action is being taken seriously.
The decisions by EU, and the ambitious implementation of those decisions, can and should have a huge impact.
You have support. People are desperate for change. They want leadership on climate change. We see it in the streets, on social media and at COP25 itself.
The facts bear this out. The European Investment Bank recently completed its second climate survey. It's findings show a clear willingness to address climate change.
For example, 64% of Europeans surveyed said they're prepared to opt for public transport for environmental purposes over driving.
52% of Europeans surveyed said they intend to invest in green funds in 2020.
70% of Europeans surveyed say they intend to or have already switched to a green energy provider.
I recognize that surveys are not science and that intentions are not actions. But it does give a glimpse of the appetite and willingness for change. We've seen climate change concerns reflected at the voting booths as well-here in Europe and beyond.
But if you think Europeans are alone or even leading with respect to a need for green change, think again.
I just told you that 52% of Europeans surveyed said they intend to invest in green funds in 2020.
That number is 86% in China.
I told you that 70% of Europeans surveyed say they intend to or have already switched to a green energy provider.
That same number is 94% in China.
And 91% of Chinese citizens say they intend to heat their home less to fight climate change compared to 78% of Europeans.
So, the appetite for change is not restricted to Europe. By the way, the numbers for Europe and the United States are, for the most part, similar.
Ladies and gentlemen, in 2020 it's time political decisions not only matched the reality of climate change, but the appetite for change.
We have the vehicle to help us move forward in the Paris Agreement. Contrary to what some say, it is already in operation and functioning well. We must complete the important work still required under it. We must, through full implementation in 2020 and beyond, truly unleash its full potential.
The EU can and is leading by example. We urge you to continue working with other nations to stress the dire situation the world faces and to facilitate the resolution of roadblocks that still remain in the process. We need your leadership both here and abroad.
At the heart of this is the protection of an idea as well-one that is at the heart of the EU and at the heart of the UN as well-the idea of the importance of multilateralism. It works, we know it works-it has been proven to work. And with respect to climate change and the achievement of the 2030 agenda, it's truly the only way forward.
We have no more time to waste. It's time to listen to the people, act on our consciences, and to back this up with significant and lasting climate action in 2020.