UN chief hails US return to Paris Agreement, calls for climate action
Published: Feb 20, 2021 09:33 AM


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday hailed the re-entry of the United States into the Paris Agreement on climate change and called for global action to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

"Today is a day of hope, as the United States officially rejoins the Paris Agreement. This is good news for the United States, and for the world," Guterres told a virtual event to mark the US re-entry.

"For the past four years, the absence of a key player created a gap in the Paris Agreement, a missing link that weakened the whole. So today, as we mark the United States re-entry into this treaty, we also recognize its restoration, in its entirety, as its creators intended," he said. "Welcome back."

The United States signed the Paris Agreement on April 22, 2016, and expressed its consent to be bound by the agreement by acceptance on Sept. 3, 2016. Donald Trump, shortly after taking office as US president, announced in June 2017 that his country would cease all participation in the agreement. The US withdrawal officially took effect on Nov. 4, 2020.

On his first day in the White House, President Joe Biden signed a new instrument of acceptance, which was deposited with the UN secretary-general on the same day, enabling the US re-entry on Feb. 19, 2021, in accordance with provisions of the Paris Agreement.

Guterres on Friday called for US and global action to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Paris Agreement is a historic achievement. But the commitments made so far are not enough. And even those commitments made in Paris are not being met, said Guterres.

The six years since 2015, when the Paris Agreement was negotiated, have been the six hottest years on record. Carbon dioxide levels are at record highs. Fires, floods and other extreme weather events are getting worse, in every region, he said. "If we don't change course, we could face a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3 degrees this century."

This year is pivotal for global climate action, and the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November will be a make-or-break occasion. Governments will take decisions that will determine the future of people and the planet, he said.

The United States, together with all members of the Group of 20 largest economies in the world, has a decisive role in delivering three main objectives: the long-term vision, the decade of transformation, and urgent climate action now, he said.

A central objective for the United Nations this year is to create a truly global coalition for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, he said.

He asked the United States to formally join this coalition very soon, as pledged by President Biden, and will present its concrete plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

In the past year, countries representing 70 percent of the world economy and 65 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions committed to net-zero emissions, he noted.

He asked all governments to present more ambitious, concrete, and credible Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for the next 10 years, before the Glasgow conference in November.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a joint press conference at the UN headquarters in New York, Sept. 9, 2020. Photo:Xinhua

Guterres commended all US states, cities, businesses and financial institutions that have shown impressive leadership since 2015 by committing to the goals of the Paris Agreement despite the Trump administration's inaction and counterproductive actions.

"We rely on the United States to build on this with an ambitious and credible Nationally Determined Contribution for 2030, aligned with President Biden's commitment to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050," he said.

The recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity to rebuild stronger and better. To do that, there is a need to invest in a green economy that will help to heal the planet and its people, and create well-paying, stable jobs to ensure more equitable and sustainable prosperity, he said.

Now is the time to implement transformative change: phase out coal; support a just transition, with training and opportunities for people whose jobs will be impacted; stop investing in fossil fuel projects; shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from consumers to polluters, said Guterres.

He stressed the need to close the finance gap by supporting countries that are suffering the ravaging impacts of the climate crisis. He urged the Group of Seven countries to deliver concrete results on finance at their summit in June. Those that have not done so already must commit to doubling their climate finance. All developed countries must honor the pledge to contribute 100 billion US dollars annually to developing countries, he said.

He also asked all donors to commit to increasing the share of climate finance allocated to adaptation to reach 50 percent, and all financial institutions and banks to align their investments with the Paris Agreement by 2024.

"The Paris Agreement is our pact with our descendants and the whole human family. This is the race of our lifetimes. We must go much faster, and much farther. It is within our power to build a future of renewable energy and green infrastructure that protects people and planet and ensures prosperity for all. Let's get to work," he said.

Friday's event was organized by the United Nations Association of the United States of America.