Climate responsibility goes beyond nine-to-five job, says deputy UN chief Amina Mohammed

UN deputy secretary general Amina Mohammed on stage at Building Bridges 2021. She called on different stakeholders to work together to rebuild the widening trust deficit and achieve the SDGs.(Credit: Building Bridges\Anne Colliard)

The finance community and world at large need to go beyond their nine-to-five job and take individual responsibility in making the planet a more sustainable place, the United Nations’ deputy secretary general Amina Mohammed urged at the Building Bridges summit on Monday. 

In an interview with Geneva Solutions ahead of her opening remarks, Mohammed, who is also chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group, said her message to the audience at the sustainable finance summit was an appeal to them as individuals.

“In the workplace, it is one mandate that they carry out every day, to make profit, to invest in what they deem as viable programmes and projects. But when they go home, they're one of the 7.5 billion [people]. And it's making the connection between your individual responsibility and the collective outcome in our world today,” she said.

A long-hailed “climate warrior”, Mohammed, who was recently elected for a second term as UN deputy secretary general, previously served as Nigeria’s environment minister and was also special adviser to former UN chief Ban Ki-moon, during the tough negotiations that took place in 2015 in creating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With just six years until the targets set out in the 17 SDGs are meant to be achieved it’s clear that they are still far from that point, Mohammed warned, with the pandemic reversing “years of painstaking progress”.

The Cop26 summit, she said, had just about kept the 1.5 degree goal alive, but other ambitions, such as raising the $100bn a year in climate finance for developing countries that should have already been met last year, fell short.

“[It was] disappointing that we were not able to really see much more effort being made at the levels of funding for adaptation,” she told Geneva Solutions, noting that climate adaptation was the only option left for many regions around the world already past that point of no return.

The net-zero finance commitments made during the Cop26 conference, namely the eye-catching $130 trillion of private sector assets pledged under Mark Carney’s Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero, she said, were a sign that there was “a lot more understanding that we've got to get real about this”.

“Now we've got to really get substance around that and to see what that actually translates to, in terms of the ‘just transition’; with the energy transition, which will be incredibly important to us, and the phasing out of coal.”

Speaking to a packed audience at the opening of the Building Bridges summit at the Maison de la Paix, Mohammed said the world was at a “breakdown or breakthrough moment” in addressing urgent challenges.

“We need more ambition, more action, more scale, greater urgency in delivering the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, and we certainly need more fuel, more financial resources and more investments,” she said.

She added that the sustainable finance summit could pave the way towards further action by fostering partnerships between the finance industry, international organisations, civil society, governments and the United Nations.

“Investment in sustainable development must be integrated, just as the challenges we are trying to resolve are also integrated. For this to happen, we need everyone to work in unison.”

Building Bridges fills seats, despite new variant fears

Mohammed joined a line-up of high profile speakers on stage during the opening of the four-day event comprising 72 events and aimed at generating debate and new solutions for driving more money towards sustainable development.

Hundreds of people attended the first day panels and workshops, held at the Maison de La Paix and the Campus Biotech, despite tighter restrictions announced over the weekend following the emergence of the new variant Omicron.

The organisers are understood to have debated whether to hold the event or not until the last minute following the cancellation of other major meetings like the WTO’s ministerial conference, before ultimately deciding to press ahead.

Mohammed said the impact of the pandemic on health, education, gender equality and the environment, was equally important to discussions on sustainable finance and further reinforced the need to invest in the sustainable development goals.

“Today we're witnessing another variant, and it will continue to happen unless everyone gets a vaccine. So vaccine equity is at the very top of our agenda, because it creates an enabling environment for us to really talk about business.

“So I hope the business community will not see the vaccine conversation as distant from what needs to happen to enable them to accomplish some of the investments we're looking for.”