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Amid Dual Crises of Climate and Covid-19, World Leaders Told 'Empty Words Will Not Help Us'

"Despite promising statements, the [Petersberg] dialogue did not result in firm commitments to a green and just recovery."

German Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze participates in the Petersberg Climate Dialogue XI.

German Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze participates in the virtual Petersberg Climate Dialogue XI on April 24, 2020. (Photo: BMU/Christoph Wehrer)

As the year's first major meeting of climate ministers—held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic—wrapped up Tuesday, climate campaigners welcomed world leaders' calls for a "green recovery" from the ongoing public health crisis but demanded that the lofty rhetoric be matched by ambitious, detailed plans and actions.

"This pandemic has upended climate diplomacy and climate meetings until next year but countries, especially major emitters, must continue working to deliver strong commitments on climate ambition this year that put the world on a 1.5°C degree pathway."
—May Boeve, 350.org

Ministers from a few dozen countries came together online for the Petersberg Climate Dialogue (PCD) XI. The two-day annual meeting was co-hosted by Germany and the United Kingdom. The U.K. will also host the next U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26), which was set for November but is postponed because of the outbreak.

The German and British hosts announced last week that the livestreamed event would "focus on how we can organize economic recovery after the acute crisis management, and how countries can proceed with ambitious climate action despite the postponement of COP26. The goal is a green recovery."

May Boeve, executive director of global environmental advocacy group 350.org, said in a statement Tuesday that "despite promising statements, the [Petersberg] dialogue did not result in firm commitments to a green and just recovery. The climate crisis has not taken time off so our response to the COVID-19 pandemic must also be up to the challenge of climate breakdown."

Boeve, whose organization has joined with hundreds of groups fighting for a just recovery, added:

This pandemic has upended climate diplomacy and climate meetings until next year but countries, especially major emitters, must continue working to deliver strong commitments on climate ambition this year that put the world on a 1.5°C degree pathway. This must go alongside efforts to regenerate economies and social welfare measures. In fact they reinforce each other—it's possible to make economic recovery measures that put people and the planet first.

The choices being made right now will shape our society for years, if not decades to come. Solutions for economic and social recovery must center on principles of justice, care, community empowerment, and international solidarity for the safety and long-term resilience of the most vulnerable. The choices must put people first, and accelerate our action against the climate crisis. We need a truly interconnected global approach which first and foremost invests in the safety and health of all people.

Fridays for Future Germany, the country's chapter of the global youth climate movement launched by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, tweeted a demand for bold action ahead of a speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to PCD Tuesday.

"What we need is a clear commitment to increased climate goals that are in line with [1.5°C] degrees," the group declared. "Empty words will not help us here—with the voice of hundreds of thousands of strikers we say: #FightEveryCrisis!"

In her address, Merkel reiterated her support for raising the European Union's emissions reduction target for 2030 to as high as 55%. According to Euractiv:

The chancellor also said it was now time to "prove our steadfastness," because the climate must not be excluded from the economic stimulus packages currently being put together.

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Merkel's speech came after officials from Germany and the U.K. promoted a green recovery in comments to the Associated Press. As Britain's Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: "The world must work together, as it has to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, to support a green and resilient recovery, which leaves no one behind."

However, Jennifer Morgan, executive director of advocacy group Greenpeace International, told the AP that "we are seeing the internal documents from industries indicating that they are trying to use this moment where public money is being put back into the economy to prop up their industries." She specifically pointed to the oil and aviation industries.

"It's just really important, particularly with the oil industry, to note that this type of volatility that we're seeing right now, it's a rehearsal for what climate chaos will bring to the oil market in the future," she said. "These are risky investments. They were risky investments before this crisis, and they are risky investments moving forward."

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who also delivered a speech to PCD Tuesday, similarly emphasized the importance of moving away from energy practices that have contributed to the climate crisis.

"Looking forward, public funds should invest in the future, by flowing to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and climate," said Guterres. "Fossil fuel subsidies must end, and carbon must have a price and polluters must pay for their pollution."

Guterres' speech, which outlined "six climate-related actions to shape the recovery," echoed his public remarks on the 50th annual Earth Day last week as well as a Tuesday op-ed he published the New York Times.

"For years, we have failed our young by damaging the planet and failing to protect the people most vulnerable to crises," he wrote for the Times. "We have a rare and short window of opportunity to rectify that—by rebuilding a better world, not reverting to one that is good for only a minority of its citizens."

"We must act now to tackle the coronavirus globally for all of our sakes," he declared, "and, at the same time, pursue immediate ambitious climate action for a cleaner, greener, more prosperous, and equitable world."

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