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Stop new coal plants by 2020 and taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuels, UN chief says

15 May 2019

Construction of new coal-fired power plants should cease by next year and countries should introduce a price on carbon emissions in a bid to prevent "catastrophic" impacts from climate change, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres says.

Mr Guterres also used his address to the Pacific Island Forum in Fiji on Wednesday to call on nations to stop subsidising fossil fuels: "Taxpayer money should not be used to boost hurricanes, spread drought and heatwaves, melt glaciers, and bleach corals."

The UN chief is on a tour of Pacific Island states ahead of a week-long climate action summit in New York in September. The region's low-lying states, such as Vanuatu and Kiribati, are particularly vulnerable from rising sea levels as ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melt.

"Here in the Pacific, sea-level rise in some countries is four times greater than the global average and is an existential threat to some island states," he said in his speech.

"Global warming of 1.5 degrees would cause severe damage to tropical reefs, but if warming levels were to reach 2 degrees or more, it would be catastrophic for marine life and humans alike."

Mr Guterres said efforts to limit warming should "include carbon pricing that reflects the true cost of emissions, and accelerating the closure of coal plants [and] halting plans for new ones".

Pacific issues have barely figured in Australia's election campaign, other than a Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama criticising comments from John Alexander, the Liberal MP for the Sydney seat of Bennelong that his country's first priority should be to "move their settlements to higher ground" rather than halt coal exports.

Mr Alexander has said climate adaptation should happen at the same time as curbing emissions.

The UN chief, however, declined to comment on the Australian elections in a brief media conference after his speech, saying "foreigners should not get involved in elections", according to the ABC's Stephen Dziedzic.

Second-hottest April

Mr Guterres' call for curbing climate change comes as the Japan Meteorological Agency became the latest to declare last month was the second-hottest on record in data going back to 1891. Temperatures were 0.8 degrees above the average during the 20th century, JMA said.

Mr Guterres made no comment about Australia's climate ambitions, which are among the weakest of developed countries when accounting for the Morrison government's plan to use expected Kyoto "carryover credits" to meet its Paris climate promise.

Labor has ruled out the use of such a surplus from the Kyoto Protocol period up to 2020. Under the government's projections, Australia's carbon abatement effort between 2021 and 2030 would more than halve if the credits are applied to the country's Paris target.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald