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

The COVID-19 crisis is presenting international climate negotiations with new challenges. Environment ministers from some 35 countries are meeting in a two-day online conference in a bid to make progress on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The gathering on 27 and 28 April, hosted by the German Environment Ministry is called the ‘Petersberg Climate Dialogue’ (PCD). The United Kingdom, as president of the next Climate Change Conference (COP 26), co-chairs this year’s PCD.

High-level government officials discussed which measures could pave the way for a green recovery from the economic crisis. The other aim was to forge international agreement on ambitious carbon cuts despite the postponement of COP 26 – previously scheduled for Glasgow in November 2020 (now without a date).

Additional exchanges between non-state actors such as businesses, cities, NGOs and thinktanks, and between chief negotiators, also took place. As in previous years, UN Secretary-General António Guterres and German Chancellor Merkel participated in the PCD.

In his remarks, Guterres pointed out that COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of our societies and economies to shocks, and has laid bare deep inequalities that threaten the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“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 warned.

But Guterres also highlighted that while nations are planning their recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, “the international community has a profound opportunity to steer the world on a more sustainable and inclusive path”.

The Secretary-General proposed six climate-related actions to shape the recovery. Among them is the delivery of new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition, as nations are currently spending trillions to recover from Covid-19. “Investments must accelerate the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy”, he stressed.

Guterres also pointed at the need for co-operation in order to solve both Covid-19 and the climate crises: “To resolve both emergencies, we must work together as an international community. Like the Coronavirus, greenhouse gases respect no boundaries. Isolation is a trap. No country can succeed alone”.

Scientists have warned that there’s little time left if the world wants to achieve the headline goal of the 2015 Paris climate accord — keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, ideally 1.5 C.

Some have also likened the strategy adopted by countries in fighting the pandemic – the idea of flattening the curve of infections so health systems don’t collapse – to the need to bring down the rate of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.

In closing, the Secretary-General pointed out: “We have a rare and short window of opportunity to rebuild our world for the better. Let us use the pandemic recovery to provide a foundation for a safe, healthy, inclusive and more resilient world for all people”.


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