Secretary-General’s video message to Powering Past Coal Alliance Summit

2 March  2021 

Excellencies, Dear friends,

I want to begin by congratulating all the governments that have joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance.  My thanks also to the co-chairs, the United Kingdom and Canada.

In the last year, in the midst of a pandemic, many decision makers from the public and private sectors stepped up and committed to net zero emissions by mid-century.

The momentum for climate action offers a measure of hope.

But hope must be checked against reality.

And the reality is the following:

To keep the 1.5-degree goal within reach, we must embark immediately on a decade of transformation through a successful COP26 in Glasgow.

Last Friday, the UN climate convention secretariat published the initial version of its Nationally Determined Contributions report — the collective scorecard on our path to 2030.

The news wasn’t good.  We have a long way to go.

But major emitters have a chance to present or re-submit more ambitious national climate plans in the next few months with credible emissions cuts aligned with the 1.5 degree objective.

And if we take immediate action to end the dirtiest, most polluting and, yes, more and more costly fossil fuel from our power sectors, then we have a fighting chance to succeed.

Phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to get in line with the 1.5 degree goal.

This means that global coal use in electricity generation must fall by 80% below 2010 levels by 2030 

Once upon a time, coal brought cheap electricity to entire regions and vital jobs to communities.

Those days are gone.

More than half of the renewable capacity added in 2019 achieved lower power costs than the cheapest new coal plants.

Fossil fuels-related air pollution causes 1 in 5 of all deaths globally each year.

And coal’s economic viability is declining.  This has been accelerated by the pandemic.

In virtually all markets, it is now cheaper to build new renewable energy capacity than new coal plants.

For example, the International Energy Agency has found that the cost of building new solar utility-scale projects is cheaper than simply running existing coal plants in places such as China and India, with renewable energy costs around the world getting even cheaper by the day.

Today, I am calling on all governments, private companies and local authorities to take three steps.

First, cancel all global coal projects in the pipeline and end the deadly addiction to coal.

I urge all OECD countries to commit to phasing out coal by 2030, and for non-OECD countries to do so by 2040.  Science tells us this is essential to meet the Paris Agreement goals and protect future generations.

Main emitters and coal users should announce their phase-out plans well before the Glasgow Conference.   G7 members should take the lead and commit to this phase-out at the G7 June Summit at the latest.

Second, end the international financing of coal plants and shift investment to renewable energy projects.  

I ask leaders of main emitting economies to announce the end of their international financial support to coal at the earliest opportunity this year.

I look forward to seeing much more support to the developing countries that are embracing the transition to renewable energy to deliver universal energy access to their citizens.

I also ask all multilateral and public banks — as well as investors in commercial banks or pension funds — to shift their investments now in the new economy of renewable energy.

Third, jump-start a global effort to finally organize a just transition, going coal plant by coal plant if necessary.  

Most studies estimate that despite inevitable job losses, the transition from coal to renewable will result in the net creation of millions of jobs by 2030.

But we know the impact on regional and local levels will be varied.

We have a collective and urgent responsibility to address the serious challenges that come with the speed and scale of the transition.  The needs of coal communities must be recognized, and concrete solutions must be provided at a very local level.

That requires engagement —from governments to power companies, from labor unions to investors, both private and public.

I call on all countries to embrace the International Labor Organization’s Guidelines for a just transition and adopt them as minimum standard to ensure progress on decent work for all.

The United Nations will fully support this just transition and efforts to ensure that thriving and prosperous renewable energy communities emerge from this transformation.

Excellencies, Dear Friends,

We can have renewable energy and blue skies.

We can have decent, healthy, and reliable jobs.

We can have dependable, renewable power systems that ensure everyone has access to energy.

We can power past coal and have economies that thrive on innovative businesses aligned to what the world is demanding — sustainable development and prosperity for people and planet.

We can make all of this happen, together.

Thank you.