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Petersberg Climate Dialogue: ‘The highest cost is the cost of doing nothing’

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The 11th international Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin last week heard a renewed call from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for “brave, visionary and collaborative leadership” to tackle both the COVID pandemic and the “looming existential threat of climate disruption”.

“Last year was the second-hottest year on record, part of the hottest decade in recorded history,” Mr Guterres said in a video message (from 29:50) to the ministerial meeting – the first on climate this year, held virtually.

“Delayed climate action will cost us vastly more each year in terms of lost lives and livelihoods, crippled businesses and damaged economies.

“The highest cost is the cost of doing nothing,” he said, echoing the title of the IFRC’s major 2019 report on climate change: The cost of doing nothing, The humanitarian price of climate change and how it can be avoided.

Affirming his six key priorities for shaping the recovery from COVID put forward on Earth Day last month, Mr Guterres said: “We must urgently put in place measures to strengthen resilience and cut greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.”

The UN Secretary General said he was continuing to “advocate for significantly more ambition on mitigation, adaptation and financing.”

All countries, he argued, needed to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050, while on adaptation “we need to support those countries least responsible for climate change but most vulnerable to its impacts.”

He concluded: “Let us use the pandemic recovery to provide a foundation for a safe, healthy, inclusive and more resilient world for all people.”

‘The decisions we make will either lay the foundation for sound, sustainable, inclusive growth or they will lock-in polluting emissions for decades more’

The Petersberg dialogues, hosted by Germany and the incoming COP presidency, are held every year and are intended to add momentum to the main UN climate talks later.

However, in the light of the postponement of COP 26 in Glasgow because of the COVID pandemic, last month’s Petersberg session has been seen as a test case for alternative virtual diplomacy on climate.

Environment ministers from more than 30 countries and local government representatives, UN officials, NGOs and the private sector met for two days “with their offices, living rooms, and gardens as background”, as one media report put it.

“We need a green recovery in order to build a more resilient future,” a UN press release quoted German Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze as saying.

“Our guiding principle is not to go back to the old world, but to work towards a better world with more resilient and climate-friendly economies.”

Investment in COVID recovery, she argued, “could also help drive climate action forward significantly. Investments in renewable energy, green mobility and climate-friendly industrial processes are at the same time supporting climate action, innovation and jobs.”

‘Overlapping risks’

COP 26 President and UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, said: “It is clear that as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the decisions we make will either lay the foundation for sound, sustainable, inclusive growth or they will lock-in polluting emissions for decades more.”

He added that he and his team would “work night and day to raise ambition on climate change. We owe that to ourselves and to future generations.”

Stressing the importance of building resilience into planning for recovery from the pandemic, Climate Centre Director Maarten van Aalst hoped #PCD11 would “link bold action on mitigation, adaptation and resilience alike”.

The world’s most vulnerable people, he said, faced “overlapping risks of coronavirus and other diseases, extreme weather, and conflict.”

But for COVID recovery there were “huge synergies” with both climate mitigation and adaptation – a resilient as well as a green future could be realised through “direct support and continued investment in basic healthcare, social protection, early warning and risk reduction.”