Keynote speech by President von der Leyen at the Global Citizen NOW climate session

Thank you very much, dear Hugh, for having me, and thank you very much for Global Citizen's leadership – from the pandemic to fighting climate change, the climate action. And thank you very much for this opportunity to address such a diverse audience. You are leaders from politics, business, civil society – but you share the same sense of responsibility and the idea that we are all global citizens. So, it is very good to be here. Thank you very much for having invited me.

Let me start with the basics: That is the dramatic reality of a boiling planet. Just a month ago, I was in Greece, a country that was ravaged by the worst wildfires in Europe in living memory. And only a few weeks later, the same country was hit by three years' worth of rainfall in just three days. This is the reality of climate change. The same is happening from Libya to Slovenia, from Spain to the Philippines. Climate change is among us. Now you wonder: How can anybody still have doubts? Well, some still wonder whether climate action and economic growth can go hand in hand. Our answer is yes. And we are proving it. With the European Green Deal and our Climate Law, we became the first continent to make climate neutrality a legally binding target by 2050. We have then set emission reduction goals for 2030. We have developed a roadmap. And today, we are on track not only to reach those goals in 2030 but to overshoot them. So this is really good news. This roadmap to climate neutrality has fostered innovation and investment. Why that? Because business found the necessary reliability and long-term predictability. This is so important. Just stay the course; they need this reliability.

Just a few days ago, for example, I was in Denmark, where I inaugurated the world's first container ship, powered by green methanol. The ship owner, Maersk, told me that, when he planned this ship, it was a bad business case. But he wanted it to try out how to decarbonise his fleet. But then, we launched the European Green Deal. So, the direction of travel in politics was clear. And all of a sudden, what appeared to be a bad business case turned into a first-mover advantage. We have seen innovations happening in Europe, which otherwise would have been much more difficult to achieve. For example, the first green steel factory. When we started the European Green Deal, Europe had none. Today we have 38. Europe is now attracting more investment in clean hydrogen than the United States and China combined. We have the first carbon capture and storage. So, our climate action is not only good policy but it is also a good business case. And that is the news for the business sector.

Today, more and more countries are joining the clean-tech race. They want to get away from the old, brown energies like gas, oil and coal. They want to protect the green lungs of the world while growing their economy. I saw this with my own eyes – and you mentioned it, Hugh – earlier this month in Nairobi, at the Africa Climate Summit. I must say I was deeply inspired by the confidence and optimism of my counterparts. President Ruto of Kenya captured the spirit when he said: ‘For a very long time, we have looked at this only as a problem. It is time we flip it and look at it from the other side.' I could not agree more. Developing economies are a crucial part of the solution to climate change: With a huge potential for renewable and clean energy, and green hydrogen for example, critical raw materials, incredible nature and biodiversity, and their young workforce. So they can leapfrog into a clean energy future while creating good jobs and economic opportunities, provided – and that is the crucial point – there is investment they need in infrastructure.

So too often, emerging economies lack the resources to invest or cannot access resources. The big question is: How can we close the world's clean investment gap? And major economies like Europe have an important role to play. We have an obligation. Let me go through a few topics. The European Union remains the world's biggest climate finance contributor. We contributed more than USD 27 billion to climate finance. That is more than one-fourth of the global USD 100 billion goal. And I am very confident that this year, at COP28, we will reach that goal. We will finally keep our promise. Then we have our investment plan – we call it Global Gateway, it is up to EUR 300 billion – where we are financing clean infrastructure across the world in developing countries and emerging markets. Of course, we also need to recalibrate the international financial system, so that it can better support climate action. That is a big topic that we are discussing at UNGA these days. And there are many interesting proposals on the table, from a Sustainable Development Goal Stimulus by Secretary-General Guterres to the discussion on debt restructuring.

But I want to speak today about private investment. Public money from major economies, however crucial, is simply not enough. We need to work even closer with the private sector. That is what I want to talk about. Let me briefly introduce four ideas to you. First, green bonds. Second, carbon pricing. Third, carbon credits. And finally, as a fourth point, global renewable energy targets.

On the first point. The global experience shows that green bonds are a key tool in mobilising capital from private investors that want to make investments with a climate-positive impact. That is a good tool. However, despite the rapid growth in the recent years, we have seen that the green bond market remains largely dominated by Europe, the United States and China – while the developing countries that would really have a benefit from it struggle to access their potential. This is why we launched the Global Green Bond Initiative. Europe, as I said, has the biggest and most advanced green bond market in the world. So we have quite some expertise. And we want to now share this expertise with developing economies so that they can create their own green bond markets. In addition, we will invest EUR 1 billion in green bonds of low- and middle-income countries. This has a double effect. We are de-risking the private investment and we are acting as an anchor investor. This could yield up to EUR 20 billion in sustainable investments from the private sector. So my message to the business community is: Do not miss the train – be part of the dynamics of these fast-rising economies. That is the message.

The second point, carbon pricing. Carbon pricing is a market-based instrument. The principle is very easy: You want to pollute – you pay. If not – you innovate. Clean up your products, decarbonise. So, carbon pricing fosters innovation by the private sector. It makes polluters pay. And the revenues you get can support the clean transition in developing countries. Let me give you some figures: We started carbon pricing in the European Union in 2005. Since then, the economy grew by 65% but the CO2 emissions dropped by 35% in the industries that are covered by carbon pricing. So we grew the economy while cutting emissions. Now if you look at the global scenery, globally, only one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions are covered by carbon pricing. But this quarter brings back revenues of USD 95 billion. Just imagine the global impact in terms of new revenues – while cutting greenhouse gas emissions – if more countries would adopt this strategy, the carbon pricing. This could be a game changer for climate finance. And this is our call for action for carbon pricing, that we want to launch. We have launched it in Paris, and we want to have a big push for it at COP28.

My third point is trustworthy carbon credits. Carbon credits can truly make a difference to the planet. The crucial idea is: Governments have projects like reforestation or renewable energy or wetlands. Companies can then reward those efforts in addition to their own efforts. They can invest there. But what we need now is an international framework that provides clarity and clear criteria. What are trusted true carbon credits? We started to work on that with the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO. We want to make as much progress as possible by COP28. And I invite all of you to engage in these discussions.

My fourth and final point: If we want to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we need to speed up the global clean energy transition. That is why I think that we need global targets by 2030. Because we all know: Only what gets measured, gets done. If you just have the goal and you do not have the trajectory, you will never get there. Only if you know exactly where you want to go, you have a clear goal and you measure it every year, then the things get done. And this will show companies the direction of travel. Again: predictability, reliability, stay the course. So to get there by 2030, we need global action. And therefore, we are building a coalition with the COP28 Presidency, President Ruto of Kenya, Prime Minister Mottley of Barbados, and the International Energy Agency and IRENA. Our goal is for the world to agree at COP28 to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency, which is energy saving. We invite all countries to join. We need to get this done.


Dear friends,

The audacity to think globally is our only option in this climate-critical period. Together with our friends all over the world and with critical supporters, like you here in the room, we are able to make it. So let me thank again Global Citizen for bringing us together. And let me wish all of you a very good conference.

Thank you very much for listening.