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COVID-19 is a crossroads to a sustainable future

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Photo: World Economic Forum / Remy Steinegger

Ban Ki-moon calls for leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, and investors to create a healthy, resilient, and zero-emissions future.

This speech was delivered virtually, at the 11th Sustainable Innovation Forum on 16 November 2020.

Greetings to all taking part in this 2020 Sustainable Innovation Forum.

2020 was meant to usher in a decade of climate action. However, we have faced another threat - COVID-19. And we will face more suffering as a result of this pandemic in the months to come. 

But, we must not pause our action on climate change. The climate emergency remains one of the greatest existential threats facing humanity.

We stand at a crossroads.

Historically, while pandemics have caused great loss and suffering, they have also galvanised change. As we consider our present challenges, we must also question which parts of “business-as-usual” are worth returning to when we come out of the pandemic.

We do not stand at this juncture with no roadmap. We already have a framework for action – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. 

The SDGs recognise the need for interconnected solutions. The Paris Agreement can help guide us in ensuring our economic recovery is based on policies that promote green growth, protect biodiversity and embrace renewable energy.

The science tells us that the window of opportunity to address climate change is closing. While COP26 in Glasgow has been delayed, our action must not be.

We have a chance in the economic recovery from COVID-19 to encourage leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, and investors to create a healthy, resilient, and zero-emissions future. 

The UN Secretary-General has set out clear principles to guide the recovery. Fiscal firepower must drive a shift from the grey to a green economy. We must use this moment to end investment in fossil fuel extraction and instead focus on renewable energy and clean technologies – there is no place for coal.

And in our global recovery, we must leave no one behind. Vulnerable nations are facing an unprecedented collective threat to human life, livelihoods and economic devastation. If poorer countries are to be able to afford a ‘green recovery’ from COVID-19, they need financial support to do so.

And we do not want a case where countries put substantial investment into renewable energy at home, whilst still financing their companies to export fossil fuels worldwide. 

Finally, to achieve any of this, we must work together as an international community.

The climate crisis is not just a crisis for the climate. Without adequate collective action, we risk unravelling decades of hard-earned progress on improving global health, tackling poverty and reducing inequalities.

But, if we get things right, we can steer a sustainable and inclusive global recovery for all.

Thank you.

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