A conversation on our single most important intergenerational responsibility, 21 April 2021


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, 21 April 2021

Dear Laurence, Nick, Excellencies, Friends,

Back in 2013, we launched these biennial lectures to bring attention to the urgency to act on climate change. During past lectures, I stressed the need to move to net zero emissions, to make coal a thing of the past, and the importance of multilateral action and of activism on climate.

Today, we are still on a collision course with nature! Atmospheric CO2 has increased by 50% since the industrial revolution. Around 1 million species are at risk of extinction. Deforestation stands at 10 million hectares per year; the size of ocean “dead zones” is doubling every decade since the 1960s. We are seeing greater severity and frequency of extreme weather and slow onset events.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need to change our course even clearer. Habitat destruction, which accounts for 15% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, also contributes to the spread of diseases from animals to people.

During my first lecture, I stressed that we needed to reach net zero emissions in the second half of the century. This was controversial then. Now, 124 countries have pledged to reach net zero. And thousands of investors have committed to support the transition. Not to mention the leadership shown by youth, civil society and every level of government.

I also spoke about the tide pulling us towards fossil fuels. I am pleased to see that, today, more than a quarter of electricity comes from renewables. And this share is projected to increase further. We are also seeing a shift in the transport sector.

But we cannot be complacent. We need to move faster, further and together to implement credible pathways to net-zero. The U.S., China, the UK have already indicated they will significantly increase their mitigation ambition, and I hope that other countries will follow suit at the Summit called by President Biden tomorrow.

The OECD has been working for decades on environmental, social and economic indicators. We are mainstreaming climate mitigation and adaptation across our work.

First, we just started a horizontal project on climate and economic resilience. As part of it, we are starting a new International Programme for Action on Climate (IPAC) to support countries to implement the goals of the Paris Agreement, through a set of climate-related indicators, tailored recommendations and best practices. And we directly support the climate negotiations through the OECD-IEA Climate Change Experts Group.

Second, we are launching this week an expanded version of our Environment at a Glance platform, which gives access to about 50 climate-related indicators, interactive graphics and key messages on major environmental issues.

Third, we are tracking and supporting the mobilisation of finance for climate action. Since 2015, the OECD has measured developed countries’ progress towards the goal of mobilising USD 100 billion per year for climate action in developing countries. This totalled USD 78.9 billion in 2018. We are working to see how close we got to the target. But now we must move from the billions to the trillions and that can only be done with the participation of the private sector.

Fourth, I have been a consistent advocate for putting a big fat tax on carbon! Most emissions are currently underpriced: in OECD and G20 countries, most emissions are priced below 30 euros per tonne! And 81% of emissions are priced below 60 euros per tonne of CO2, the level that would have had to be reached in 2020 for the world to be broadly on track to deliver on the Paris Agreement. That gives an idea of how far off-track we are.

Fifth, OECD guidance on green budgeting supports governments to align spending with environmental goals. We are also refocusing climate policies through a well-being lens.

At our 2021 OECD Ministerial Council Meeting in May, we will report on the development of a dashboard of indicators to monitor progress towards a strong, resilient, green and inclusive recovery.

And this week, we released the OECD Green Recovery Database, tracking the environmental impacts of COVID-19 recovery policies. While hundreds of billions have been allocated to green measures, this only accounts for a fraction of total recovery spending. And even more has been channelled to measures that are environmentally negative or mixed. We are undoing with one hand what we do with the other.

Dear Friends,

COVID-19 has changed our world in profound ways. It has also demonstrated how global challenges require global, concerted, multilateral solutions. We have a number of timely and important events coming up: the US Climate Summit, the Biodiversity COP15 and COP26. Let’s make the most of them.

And remember: our single most important and most urgent intergenerational responsibility is to protect the planet!

Thank you.


Related Documents


Annual report
Discover the
Read our
annual report