World risks “collective suicide”, UN boss warns climate summit

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a joint news conference with the Prime Minister of Pakistan at the Pakistan Pavilion at the COP27 climate change conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Center in the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Center in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of the same name November 7, 2022. ( Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

by Laurent Thomet and Kelly Macnamara
Agence France-Presse

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt (AFP) – The UN chief on Monday warned that nations must cooperate in the fight against climate change or face “collective suicide”, at a summit that brought together developing countries battered by global warming demanding more action from the rich polluters.

Nearly 100 leaders meet for two days in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and face demands to deepen emissions cuts and provide financial support to developing countries already devastated by the effects of rising temperatures.

“Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish,” Guterres said at the UN COP27 summit.

“It’s either a climate solidarity pact or a collective suicide pact,” he added.

Guterres urged the world to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and get richer polluting nations to help poorer countries that are least responsible for heat-trapping emissions.

He said the goal should be to provide renewable and affordable energy for all, and specifically called on the United States and China to lead the way.

However, tensions between the US and China have prompted Beijing to freeze climate cooperation with Washington.

President Xi Jinping is absent from the summit, while President Joe Biden will attend later this week after the US midterm elections.

– “Persistent distrust” –
Nations around the world are grappling with increasingly violent natural disasters that have claimed thousands of lives and cost billions of dollars this year.

They range from devastating floods in Nigeria and Pakistan, to droughts in the United States and several African countries, to unprecedented heat waves on three continents.

“We have seen one disaster after another,” said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “Isn’t it high time we put an end to all this suffering?”

Money has become a major issue at COP27, with wealthy countries being chastised for failing to meet their pledge to allocate $100 billion a year to help developing countries green their economies.

This is an “important reason for continued distrust, and there is also no good reason for the ongoing pollution,” said Kenyan President William Ruto, who announced an African climate summit for next year.

A volley of crises – from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to soaring inflation and the lingering impact of the Covid pandemic – have raised concerns that climate change has slipped down the list of government priorities.

– “Highway to Climate Hell” –
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said President Vladimir Putin’s “abhorrent war in Ukraine and rising energy prices around the world are no reason to slow climate change”.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose gas-dependent economy has come under severe pressure from cuts in Russian supplies, also warned of a “worldwide fossil fuel renaissance”.

Guterres called for a “historic” deal between rich emitters and emerging economies, under which countries will double their emissions reductions to keep temperature rises to the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era.

Current trends would result in a 10 percent increase in carbon pollution by the end of the decade, putting the world on track to warm to 2.8C.

“We’re on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator,” Guterres said.

Poorer countries have fought successfully to get the issue of loss and damage – compensation for the damage caused by climate-related natural disasters – officially put on the COP27 agenda.

“We, the Oceanic States, who are suffering the harsh effects of your activities, must be supported to repair the damage you have caused us,” said Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan, whose island nation is threatened by rising waters.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for a windfall tax on oil company profits, which would be funneled into a loss and damage fund.

– ‘Living Nightmare’ –
For years, the United States and the European Union have hesitated to compensate for the effects of climate change because they fear that this would create an open-ended reparations framework.

“Loss and damage is not an abstract topic for endless discussions,” Ruto said. “It is our daily experience and the living nightmare for hundreds of millions of Africans.”

Guterres said that “concrete results on casualties and damage are a litmus test of governments’ commitment to the success of COP27”.

In a possible blueprint for other developing countries, a group of wealthy nations approved a plan that paves the way for South Africa to receive $8.5 billion in loans and grants to move away from coal.

The COP27 is set to continue until November 18, with ministers joining the fray in the second week.

Security at the meeting is high, according to Human Rights Watch, in the days leading up to COP27, authorities arrested dozens of people and restricted the right to demonstrate.

© Agence France-Presse