Far more needed to ‘confront the world’s climate emergency’, UN chief tells ASEAN Summit

UN Secretary-General António Guterres speaks to the press after addressing the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand. (3 November 2019)

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Four of the ten countries most affected by climate change are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Sunday, urging the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok to “confront the world’s climate emergency”.

“This region is highly vulnerable, particularly to rising sea-levels, with catastrophic consequences for low-lying communities, as recently published research illustrated”, he said, pointing out that 70 per cent of the global population most at risk of rising sea-levels are within ASEAN and other countries that will be represented at summits later this week.

The UN chief has been a strong advocate for progress on carbon pricing, ensuring no new coal plants by 2020, and ending the allocation of trillions of taxpayer dollars for the fossil fuel subsidies that boost hurricanes, spread tropical diseases and heighten conflict.

“I am particularly worried about the future impact of the high number of new coal power plants still projected in some parts of the world, including several countries in East, South and South East Asia”, he asserted.

At the same time, Mr. Guterres maintained that developed countries “must fulfil their commitment” to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

To avoid climate catastrophe, the world must

  • Cut greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.
  • Reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • Limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.

“I count on your leadership to undertake the concrete actions necessary to confront the world’s climate emergency”, Mr. Guterres underscored.

No region immune

Noting a global phenomenon of rising trade and technology tensions, and unease and uncertainty amidst revised downward growth forecasts, Mr. Guterres spelled out: “No region is immune”.

And  he drew attention to rising US-China tensions as “another concern emerging on the horizon”,  fearing what he termed “a Great Fracture”, where the two world’s largest economies split the globe in half – each with its own “dominant currency, trade and financial rules…internet and artificial intelligence capacities, and its own zero sum geopolitical and military strategies”.

“We must do everything possible to avert this Great Fracture”, the UN chief stressed, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a world with strong multilateral institutions and a universal economy with respect for international law.

Turning to economic development, Mr. Guterres spotlighted that the world is “far off track” in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While ASEAN countries have lifted millions out of poverty, there are still people being left behind.

He pointed out the many complementarities between ASEAN’s Vision 2025 and the 2030 Development Agenda, saying that the UN stands ready to support the region in accelerating its progress, particularly through “our collective efforts on peace and justice, decent work and climate action” as well as in key human rights areas, such as freedom of expression and the right to a healthy environment.

He also expressed concern over the situation in Myanmar and the plight of massive numbers of refugees .

While welcoming ASEAN’s recent engagement with Rangoon, he flagged that it was ultimately Myanmar’s responsibility “to address the root causes and ensure a conducive environment for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees to Rakhine State”.

In conclusion, the Secretary-General urged everyone to keep building on the UN-ASEAN partnership “to ensure dignity and opportunity” for the people of the region and beyond.

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