Full transcript of Secretary-General’s press encounter

1 August 2019

Good afternoon.

First August. It is the middle of summer in the northern hemisphere.

We are witnessing not only record global warming but global political tensions are also heating up.

Both are dangerous and both are avoidable.

Let me begin with the climate emergency.

We have always lived through hot summers.  But this is not the summer of our youth.

This is not your grandfather’s summer.

According to the very latest data from the World Meteorological Organization and its climate centre– – the month of July at least equaled if not surpassed the hottest month in recorded history.

This follows the hottest June ever.

This is even more significant because the previous hottest month, July 2016, occurred during one of the strongest El Niño’s ever.  That is not the case this year.

All of this means we are on track for the period from 2015 to 2019 to be the five hottest years on record.

This year alone we have seen temperature records shatter from New Delhi to Anchorage – from Paris to Santiago – from Adelaide to the Arctic Circle.

If we do not take action on climate change now, these extreme weather events are just the tip of the iceberg.

And that iceberg is also rapidly melting.

Indeed, the heatwave which affected Europe in the last month has now raised temperatures in the Arctic and Greenland by 10-15 degrees Celsius.

This at a time when Arctic Sea ice is already near record low levels.

Preventing irreversible climate disruption is the race ofour lives and for our lives.

It is a race we can – and must — win.

The urgent need for climate action is precisely why I am convening the Climate Action Summit on September 23rd.

This will be preceded by a Youth Climate Summit on September 21st.  I look forward to welcoming young leaders like Greta Thunberg and so many others.

I have told leaders — from governments, businesses and civil society – that the ticket to entry is bold action and much greater ambition.

The world’s leading scientists tell us we must limit temperature increases to 1.5C if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

We need to cut greenhouse emissions by 45% by 2030.

We need carbon neutrality by 2050.

And we need to mainstream climate change risks across all decisions to drive resilient growth, reduce vulnerability and avoid investments that could cause greater damage.

That is why I am telling leaders don’t come to the Summit with beautiful speeches.

Come with concrete plans – clear steps to enhance nationally determined contributions by 2020 – and strategies for carbon neutrality by 2050.

There is fortunately some good news.

Around the world, governments, businesses and citizens are mobilizing to confront the climate crisis.

Technology is on our side — delivering renewable energy at far lower cost than the fossil-fuel driven economy.

Solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest sources of new power in virtually all major economies.

Norway’s Parliament has voted to divest the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund – worth $1 trillion – from fossil fuels.

Many countries — from Chile to Finland, and from the United Kingdom to the Marshall Islands — have concrete and credible plans to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century.

And many others — from Ethiopia to New Zealand to Fiji to Pakistan — are planting hundreds of millions of trees to reverse deforestation, buttress climate resilience, and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Credit ratings agencies are moving to better account for the widespread perils of climate disruption — and more banks and financial institutions are pricing carbon risks into financial decisions.

Asset managers representing nearly half the world’s invested capital – some $34 trillion – are demanding urgent climate action, calling on global leaders in a letter recently published and I quote “to phase out fossil fuel subsidies … and thermal coal power worldwide”, and “put a meaningful price on carbon”.

Leading businesses around the world are also recognizing that moving early from the grey to the green economy will deliver competitive advantages, while delaying will lead to huge losses.

Here at the United Nations, the Global Compact has launched a campaign calling on businesses to join the fight to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C.

Already, businesses with a combined value of more than $1.3 trillion are on board and that number is growing fast.

We need rapid and deep change in how we do business, generate power, build cities and feed the world.

And – having endured what is possibly the hottest month in recorded history – we need action now.

In addition to heat waves, we are also confronting many political hot spots.

Allow me to touch on three.

First, I am worried about rising tensions in the Persian Gulf.

A minor miscalculation could lead to a major confrontation.

I stress the need to respect the rights and duties relating to navigation through the Strait of Hormuz and its adjacent waters in accordance with international law.

I have consistently conveyed a clear message to leaders both publicly and privately in numerous meetings andcalls.

That message can be boiled down to two words: maximum restraint.

I once again urge all parties to refrain from any actions that will escalate tensions further.

The last thing the world needs is a major confrontation in the Gulf that will have devastating implications on global security and the global economy.

Second, I am troubled by growing friction among the two largest global economies.  We need to learn the lessons of the Cold War and avoid a new one.

Looking into the not so distant future, I see the possibility of the emergence of two competing blocs — each with their own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, their own internet and artificial intelligence strategy, and their own contradictory geopolitical and military views.

We still have time to avoid this.

As I said in my address to the General Assembly last year, with leadership committed to strategic cooperation and to managing competing interests, we can steer the world onto a safer path.

Third, I am concerned about rising tensions between nuclear-armed States.

The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty — the INF — is a landmark agreement that helped stabilize Europe and end the Cold War.

When it expires tomorrow, the world will lose an invaluable brake on nuclear war.  This will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles.

Regardless of what transpires, the parties should avoid destabilizing developments and urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control.

I strongly encourage the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the so-called ‘New Start’ agreement to provide stability and the time to negotiate future arms control measures.

I also call on all State Parties to work together at the 2020 Review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to ensure the NPT remains able to fulfil its fundamental goals – preventing nuclear war and facilitating the elimination of nuclear weapons.

In the context of non-proliferation, I also reiterate that any use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and impunity for their use is inexcusable. It is imperative to identify and hold accountable all those who have used chemical weapons.

The heating of the global political atmosphere complicates all our efforts to resolve troubling situations – from Libya to Syria, from Yemen to Palestine and beyond.

We will do everything to intensify our surge in diplomacy for peace.

We will never give up our efforts to secure peace, reduce human suffering and build a sustainable world for people and planet.

Thank you.

Question:  Hi, Secretary-General. My question is about your call for maximum restraint in the Persian Gulf. Yesterday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new sanctions against Iran’s Foreign Minister, [Javad] Zarif, a man whom you met in your office up on the 38th floor as recently as July 19th, where he raised concerns about Washington’s maximum pressure campaign against his country.  Do you believe that the United States’ action against Iran’s top diplomat is getting us closer to a diplomatic solution in the Persian Gulf? And if not, what can you do about it?

Secretary-General:  When I ask for maximum restraint, I ask for maximum restraint at all levels.

Question:  Thank you, very much Secretary-General. Betul Yuruk with the Turkish News Agency. I would like to ask about Syria.  You have repeatedly called for an end to the fighting in Syria, and yet, those calls have fallen on deaf ears. Has the Idlib memorandum collapsed, failed? And what is your message to the guarantor countries of the memorandum?

And a second question, a Syria-related question. The Turkish defence minister has said Turkey would have to form a safe zone in the northeast of Syria if it cannot reach a common ground with the United States by itself. Where does the UN stand on that? What do you have to say? Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, I hope that the agreements that were celebrated in relation to Idlib will be able to hold, and I hope that the present dramatic situation that is taking place will end.  You know that I have decided to appoint a board of inquiry in relation to recent developments in premises and other entities that are supported by the UN or part of UN efforts of [deconfliction].  On the other hand, we really encourage all parties to come to an agreement in order to avoid new forms of confrontation that might emerge in the eastern parts of the city.

Question:  Thank you, Secretary-General. Just a quick follow-up on Syria.  Russia just criticized your decision to form this board of inquiry, and they said it is a mistake, and it is a deplorable action by the Secretary-General. I want your comment.

But my other question is about UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees). It seems today, you’ve started to take actions regarding the leaked confidential documents about what’s going on in UNRWA, but the investigation is still ongoing. Why you started to take action? And when do you expect these results, that everybody wants them out, to clarify the situation and to take the appropriate action regarding what’s going on? Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, I fully respect the rights of Russian Federation to disagree with me, as I also respect the position of ten other members of the Security Council that had the opposite opinion. I believe that this inquiry can produce an important result, and I can guarantee that everything will be done to make sure that this board of inquiry acts with full objectivity, not to prove anything, but to simply say what the truth is.

On the other hand, we need to look into different aspects. I have been acting quite significantly to make sure that we strengthen UNRWA and UNRWA’s capacity to deliver. I’ve been appealing for the support to UNRWA to all countries of the world as I think we should not… we should distinguish what are the revelations made, or accusations made, in relation to members of the management of UNRWA from the needs to preserve UNRWA, to support UNRWA, and to make UNRWA effective in the very important action in relation to the Palestine refugees, and I’ve been acting consistently to support that.

As you know in the present situation, the deputy of UNRWA has resigned, and so I decided that it would be important to immediately appoint a new deputy as acting deputy and, as I said, in relation to any intervention that might [be] justified, I will wait, according to due process, for the results of the inquiry and, based on the results of the inquiry, I will act accordingly.

Correspondent:  [off mic, inaudible] … for the time being, I know you can’t…

Secretary-General:  As I said, I am in favour of due process. In relation to any additional action that I might take, it will be based on the results of the investigation that is taking place.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, it’s Pamela Falk from CBS news. On your climate numbers, you gave some daunting statistics today from the WMO that July will be 1.2 centigrade degrees warmer than the pre-Industrial Era. You said the time… it cannot… the time is right to make this change.  What is your timetable in which the… with the time to make a change and all of the changes you’re calling for would be irreversible. Is it ten years, is it 20 years? What do you think is the timetable for climate action?

Secretary-General:  Well, I think the timetable is now. There are many things that need to be done now. There are many things that are being done now, but there is a very important moment in 2020.  In 2020, the countries will review their Nationally Determined Contributions, which means the commitments they made in Paris in relation to climate action. Now with the present Nationally Determined Contributions, the present commitments, we would have an increase of temperature at the end of the century clearly above 3 degrees Centigrade, which would be a devastating situation.  So not only we need what was promised in Paris to be implemented, and we are not yet there… several countries are lagging behind… but we need to recognise that those commitments are not enough, and we need to strongly enhance our ambition in relation to climate action, both reduction of emissions and adaptation.

The objective of this summit is exactly to encourage countries to make sure that they assume the need to [reach] carbon neutrality in 2030, and that Nationally Determined Contributions of next year, they will be able to announce the measures necessary to also reduce emissions by 45 per cent in 2030. These are the targets that we consider necessary in order, according to the scientific community, to get to the end of the century with no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in relation to pre-Industrial Eras.

Question:  Is there a message to the United States, since the US pulled out of the Paris climate agreement?

Secretary-General:  There is a message to all countries in the world: that it is absolutely essential not only to implement the Paris agreement, but to do so with an enhanced ambition.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.

Secretary-General:  Thank you.