Former Executive Secretary of the United Nations on Climate Change

Yvo de Boer: “We must put a price on pollution”

  • Research

First publication date: 15/11/2021

Yvo de Boer
Yvo de Boer in the Science and Technology Faculty. Photographs: Jorge Navarro. UPV/EHU.

Yvo de Boer (Vienna, 1954) is an advisor and consultant on international environmental policy. He is also the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This week he has been at the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country as a speaker during 'Climate Change Day', organised by the Faculty of Science and Technology. As the protagonist of a long, unmitigated fight for the future of the planet, he is able to make out positive signs at the Climate Summit taking place in Glasgow.

Your lecture “The multiple challenges in addressing global climate change: no single truth, solution or perception” was the highlight of the workshop. What did you talk about?

The fact that, although climate change is almost universally recognized as a key challenge, often economic interests weigh strongly and hold governments back from acting. We need to recognize the economic growth imperatives of developing nations and support them with finance and technology to make a green growth transition. Remember there is not a single nation on earth that has achieved prosperity without going through a process of industrialization and associated pollution.

«Current emission reduction pledges by governments are not enough to avoid dangerous climate change»

Could you give us a "recipe" for dealing with climate change?

Price pollution properly and invest in the technology that allows us to achieve a clean energy future, without jeopardizing poverty eradication.

Do you consider climate change to be a serious and accelerating global threat?

Yes. Current emission reduction pledges by governments are not enough to avoid dangerous climate change and we are fast approaching serious tipping points, including the thawing of arctic areas, which can lead to the release of vast amounts of Methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

From 2006 until 2010 you played a key role in the global climate protection negotiations as a former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. How do you evaluate the experience?

An exhaustive uphill struggle. We have been negotiating internationally for almost 30 years and in spite of this, greenhouse gas emissions are higher than ever before. There has been insufficient focus on investment in the technologies that offer a real solution. Without respecting the priorities of emerging economies, we will not fix this problem through negotiation.

«Right now, the 1.5-degree goal is no longer within reach»

The Scottish city of Glasgow is currently hosting the so-called COP26. What can we expect from it?

I hope he CoP will agree interim targets for 2030 and provide the prospect of actually delivering promised finance. Already many important action pledges have been made in Glasgow. I hope countries will deliver on what they have promised there. Above all we need stronger pledges and delivery from governments. These pledges will make it clear to the private sector that there is no long term future in a carbon-based economy.

It is said that the main objective is that all countries have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions so that the increase in the average temperature of the planet does not exceed 1.5 degrees. Do you think that it is enough to commit to reducing emissions?

At present the 1.5 degree goal is not in reach. Present promises by governments will take us to an over 2 degree temperature increase. Many of the commitments made are for 2050. That is far away. Beyond the tenure of any current political leader. So the temptation to “kick the can” and avoid the urgent action we need is huge. But we are seeing a shifting mood in Glasgow and this is reflected in a broad range of commitments being made in Glasgow. Especially important is the promise by financial institutions to decarbonize their investment portfolios.