Bundespräsident bei Leaders for Nature and People Event, New York

»It sounds to us, that the climate crisis can still be halted if we act fast«

Speech of Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen at «Leaders for Nature and People Event: Supporting an emergency declaration for nature and people in 2020” after the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit , 23 September 2019.


Honourable Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen!

In the context of the climate crisis, Secretary General António Guterres was right when he said “We need action!”

Why do we need action?

Because in a nutshell you could say that nature is already striking back.

This summer the Amazon was burning or still is and we are sitting in our armchairs in front of the television looking aghast.

In Austria – that is the country I come from – there are certain woods that are not on fire.

They are not burning.

But they are slowly dying.

Those are fir trees and Austria consists mainly of fir trees.

Fir trees all over. Thousands of hectares are already dead and the woods have to be cleared and I don’t think this particular kind of fir tree, the spruce, will survive below one thousand meters above sea level.

Finally a third example, the Siberian permafrost is thawing, releasing tons and tons of greenhouse gases, which is a self-reinforcing effect amplifying the climate crisis.


When I was reading about the climate crisis maybe thirty years ago this was a scenario for the middle of the 21st century or even later than that.

And it is happening now.

The climate crisis is a hard scientific fact and anybody who denies that is either foolish or totally ignorant.

Thank God the number is decreasing rather fast.

The climate crisis is an existential threat to our planet, but it is not only the planet - it is a threat to nature as we know it – there will always be nature, I am sure - but to nature as we know it and lastly a danger to us humans. The most vulnerable countries and people are the ones to suffer first, e.g. several Pacific Islands such as Palau or the Marshall Islands.

All of us are affected.

E.g. Austria is a country where about sixty percent are covered by vulnerable Alpine ecosystems.

Last year was the hottest year on record. The year before was the hottest year on record and so on. Prompting many of our communities, towns and regions - and this is on a subnational level - to declare a “climate emergency”.


Future generations will be at a loss to understand why we have not acted sooner. Frankly, I am at a loss, too. Yet, it is not all bleak.

It sounds to us, that the climate crisis can still be halted if we act fast.

We know what it takes.

We know what there is to do.

We know the cost of it.

And we know, or we should know, that doing nothing and postponing all action will be the most expensive option in the medium and in the long term.

We have known this for twenty years by now, too.

Next year at the latest, we will have an “emergency declaration for nature and people”.

Teilnahme am UNO-Klimagipfel in New York 20. - 24. September 2019

Fotos: Carina Karlovits/HBF