NewsUrgently combating climate change: something we can—and must—do

Urgently combating climate change: something we can—and must—do


“Save Tuvalu; Save the world”. This is the cry I heard on my recent visit to Tuvalu, one of the stops I made on my journey across the Pacific to see the front lines of the global climate emergency.

I went there to show solidarity with those suffering the worst effects of climate change and to draw attention to the innovative measures being taken in the region to mitigate them.

Sea level rise in some Pacific countries is four times the global average, threatening the very existence of several island states. The oceans are affected by serious problems, such as the bleaching of coral reefs, the loss of biodiversity and plastic pollution. Extreme weather events are becoming more common and endanger people’s lives and livelihoods.

Nowhere have I seen the catastrophic effects of climate change more clearly than in Tuvalu, a remote country made up of coral atolls, the highest point of which is no more than 5 meters above sea level. During my visit, I met a family who live in a state of permanent concern about flooding caused by the relentless rise in sea level, just a few steps from their home.

 I was deeply moved by the warmth of the Tuvaluan people and their intense devotion to their land, their way of life and their cultural heritage. These communities have barely contributed to climate change and yet, because of the large gas emitters, they are now forced to fight for the very existence of their countries.

We must not make the mistake of thinking that only Tuvalu, the small islands or the Pacific countries are at risk. The entire planet is threatened. What is happening in these countries is a sign of what awaits all the rest of us. The effects of the climate emergency are beginning to be felt around the world, and those effects are only going to get worse.

In Tuvalu, I met children who, despite their young age, already fear for their future and trust that my generation will do everything possible to ensure a tomorrow for them.

As Secretary General of the United Nations I have to fight many battles. But as a grandfather, the fight against climate change is the most important battle of my life.

Unfortunately, I have to say that we are not winning it.

If we want to be victorious, we must have the political will to take measures that lead to transformations.

We must recognize the moral authority of the Pacific countries, which are at the forefront of the fight against the climate emergency. And we must find sustainable solutions, invest in renewable energy and increase their resilience and adaptability.

It is essential to achieve the clear objectives that the scientific community has established: to neutralize carbon emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5ºC by the end of the century.

My message to governments as the world community tries to achieve these goals is therefore clear. First, tax carbon instead of wages. We must tax pollution, not people. Second, stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Taxpayer dollars should not be used to intensify hurricanes, spread droughts and heat waves, or melt glaciers. Third, to ensure that, by 2020, they have stopped building new coal plants. Our economy must be green, not gray.

What we need is to change rapidly and profoundly the way we run our businesses, generate electricity, build cities, and feed the world.

The last decade has shown that we have the necessary tools to face the climate crisis. We can save lives and property, breathe less polluted air, access cleaner water, and protect biodiversity. Climate action could also generate a direct economic benefit of $26 trillion by 2030 over the business as usual option , making it a cost-effective alternative.

I have convened a Summit on Climate Action at the United Nations in September, with the aim of mobilizing political ambition and accelerating the achievement of the goals of the Paris Agreement of 2015. I call on leaders to come not only with speeches, but with plans to transform energy, mobility, industry and agriculture. I ask you to make commitments to finance measures to combat climate change, not out of generosity, but out of your well-understood self-interest.

Urgently combating climate change is something we can—and must—do. As the people of Tuvalu know well, their salvation will also be ours.  

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