Guterres vows support for island States in twin fight against COVID-19, climate crisis

In an era of new challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Secretary-General António Guterres is pledging the UN’s continued support to small island States – longtime leaders in the global fight against the devastating impacts of climate change.

“Currently, all eyes are on the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest test the world has faced since the Second World War”, said the UN Chief in a video message to the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) Ambition Forum in Placencia, Belize, on Monday.  “We must work together to save lives, ease suffering, lessen the shattering economic and social consequences and bring the disease under control.” 

However, he emphasized that the struggle to rein in climate change – in particular, to keep global temperature rise below the 2015 Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius – has only become more acute amid the pandemic. Meanwhile, countries struggling with the most severe effects of the climate crisis now find themselves grappling with sharply contracting economies and unsustainable debt levels.  

Spotlighting the path of destruction left by Cyclone Harold in the Pacific in recent days, he urged Governments and their partners not to shift their focus away from climate change, warning that such events will only become more regular and deadly without decisive action. 

Climate crisis slower, deadlier, than coronavirus 

“The social and economic devastation caused by climate disruption will be many times greater than the current pandemic”, he stressed, adding: “Now is not the time for retreat.” 

He said the COVID-19 pandemic – which is resulting in major economic and political shifts around the globe – gave the international community a unique window of opportunity in which recovery plans can be instrumental in creating a more sustainable and resilient future.   

Calling for ambitious climate mitigation, adaptation and financing aimed at “building back better”, he said the voices of small island States – traditional warriors at the forefront of climate advocacy – are needed now more than ever.  

“By coming forward this year with enhanced nationally determined contributions and strategies to reach net zero emissions, you will once again lead the way for others to follow,” he said, noting that the UN will remain a strong ally. “It is essential that you are supported in your efforts.”