World leaders — minus Trump — call for united climate action

Source: By Nathanial Gronewold, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, September 27, 2020

With the 75th anniversary of the United Nations as a backdrop, a chorus of world leaders this week called for a collective stand against climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

A notable exception was President Trump, who blamed China and international organizations for the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak. During his speech Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly, Trump also described the Paris climate accord as “one-sided.”

The U.S. response stood in contrast to leaders such as South African President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, who said the world has “no choice but to work together to address the climate change crisis.”

“As we rebuild in the aftermath of this pandemic,” Ramaphosa added, “we have an opportunity to place the global economy on a low-carbon, climate-resilient development path.”

Leaders’ statements in defiance of nationalism and in defense of multilateralism were made at the launch of the 75th high-level debate of the U.N. General Assembly. The speeches continue today and into next week, delivered via pre-recorded video messages due to the risks of world leaders traveling to New York because of the pandemic.

In several statements, leaders argued that global governance was threatened by international mistrust and geopolitical conflicts, particularly between the United States and China. The instability has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, they added.

In his speech, Trump called the novel coronavirus the “China virus” and railed against China and the World Health Organization for allowing it to spread.

Most other speakers at the United Nations stressed the need to develop a united response to both COVID-19 and global warming, rejecting isolationism and ignoring Trump’s demand that China be held accountable for the pandemic.

China announced this week that it would develop a path to achieve so-called carbon neutrality by 2060.

The Trump administration said it would pull the United States out of the World Health Organization. It is also moving to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, but the country won’t be able to do so until after the November presidential election.

Other heads of government sharply criticized the U.S. withdrawals. They argued that in fighting both climate change and the pandemic, the only way forward is for all national governments to move together.

“In climate change, we all know what to do,” said Zuzana Čaputová, president of Slovakia. “We just need to show a genuine will and act together as one to make it a real clear priority.”

Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea, promised that his nation would redouble carbon dioxide-curbing efforts and would submit new 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets to the United Nations “by the end of this year.”

“The coronavirus has paradoxically given us hope that with the efforts of countries and international society, humanity can restore a green Earth,” Moon said. “With the U.N. playing a key role, I anticipate greater international cooperation to take place in pursuit of building back better and greener.”

Though Trump and others have criticized the U.N. system for its failures, other leaders argued that the fault for inaction on multiple challenges, including global warming, lies with individual governments.

“We could criticize the U.N. for this, but who are we really talking about when we blame the U.N.?” asked Switzerland’s president, Simonetta Sommaruga. “We are in fact talking about ourselves, because the U.N. is its member states, and it is often member states that stand in the way of the U.N.’s work. They block decisions or refuse to implement them, undermine resolutions or flout their principles.”

In her remarks, Sommaruga referenced the Paris Agreement on climate change as an example of a U.N. decision rejected or undermined by member states.

“From my country’s perspective, the most urgent tasks are to implement the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and the Paris Agreement and to step up our efforts for peace,” she said.

Several leaders echoed U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ plea to governments to rebuild their economies in the wake of the pandemic in a way that achieves the Paris Agreement goals, including limiting the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In a lengthy address, Emmanuel Macron, president of France, invited states to participate in a December meeting he would host to look back on the landmark Paris Agreement. He said now is the time for nations to plan the road ahead, given that they are not on track to meet the Paris goals.

He noted that the European Union is ramping up its response to global warming, and Macron said the European Union and its member states will expect other large economies to do the same in the run-up to the 2021 Conference of the Parties climate negotiations, known as COP 26.

This month, the European Commission determined the European Union should set out to reduce economywide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% over the coming decade.

“This means we need to work more quickly and more powerfully on an ambitious emissions trading system, a minimum price for carbon and a carbon border tax,” Macron said.

“We will look for commitments from the large emitters with a view to COP 26, and we will be alongside our partners to meet their objectives,” he said. “The meeting in December will be essential in this respect”