SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — With the world on the “highway to climate hell with our foot on the gas,” the head of the United Nations told dozens of leaders Monday to “cooperate or perish” to avoid further climate change. disaster by separating two biggest polluting countriesChina and the United States.
He wasn’t the only one preaching with fire-and-brimstone tones alternating between pathos and tragedy, trying to shake the world’s sense of urgency at this year’s annual UN climate conference. “Choose life over death,” urged former US Vice President Al Gore. “This is no time for moral cowardice.”
In calling for a major review of international development loans and a 10% tax on fossil fuel companies that have made “$200 billion in profits in the last three months”, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said: “Our people on this Earth deserve more -good.”
“I need not repeat the horror and devastation wrought on this Earth in the last twelve months since we met in Glasgow,” Motley said. “Whether the apocalyptic floods in Pakistan or the heatwaves from Europe to China or indeed in the last few days in my region, the devastation caused in Belize by Tropical Storm Lisa or the flash floods a few days ago in St. Lucia.”
Ahead of this year’s conference, known as COP27, leaders and experts are sounding the alarm that time is fast running out to prevent catastrophic temperature rises. But the ominous warnings may not have the effect they have had in previous meetings because of a host of other challenges now occupying the leaders’ attention, from the US midterm elections to the Russia-Ukraine war.
More than 100 world leaders will speak over the next few days at the meeting in Egypt, most from developing countries demanding greater accountability from the richest and most polluting nations. Much of their focus will be on telling their stories of those devastated by climate disasters, culminating Tuesday with a speech by Prime Minister Muhammad Sharif of Pakistan, where summer floods caused at least $40 billion in damage and displaced millions of people.
“Isn’t it high time we put an end to all this suffering,” the summit’s host, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, told his fellow leaders. “Climate change will never stop without our intervention… Our time here is limited and we must use every second we have.”
El-Sisi, who called for an end to the Russia-Ukraine war, was mild compared to fiery UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said the world “is on the highway to climate hell with the foot on the gas”.
He called for a new pact between rich and poor countries to cut emissions more deeply with financial help and to phase out coal in rich nations by 2030 and elsewhere by 2040. He called on the United States and China, the two largest economies – to especially work together on climate, something they did until the last few years.
“Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish,” Guterres said. “It’s either a Climate Solidarity Pact – or a Collective Suicide Pact.”
Guterres insisted: “Today’s pressing crises cannot be an excuse for retreat or greenwashing.”
But bad timing and world events hang over the gathering.
Most of the leaders meet on Monday and Tuesday, just as the United States has a potential policy shift by-elections. The leaders of the world’s 20 richest nations will then have their high-powered club meeting in Bali, Indonesia, days later.
The leaders of China and India – both among the biggest polluters – appear to be missing out on climate talks, even as underlings here are negotiating. The leader of the most polluting country, US President Joe Biden, arrives days later than most other presidents and prime ministers on his way to Bali.
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“There are big climate summits and small climate summits and this one was never expected to be big,” said Climate Advisers chief executive Nigel Purvis, a former US negotiator.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had initially intended to avoid the talks, but public pressure and predecessor Boris Johnson’s plans were forthcoming change your mind. The new King, Charles III, a longtime environmentalist, will not be attending because of his new role. And Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine created energy chaos that reverberated around the world in climate talks, won’t be here.
“We always want more” leaders, UN climate chief Simon Steele said at a Sunday news conference. “But I believe there is enough (leadership) right now for us to have a very productive outcome.”
In addition to the speeches given by the leaders, the talks will include “innovative” roundtable discussions that “we are confident will generate some very powerful insights,” Steele said.
The leaders who appear in droves are from the host continent of Africa.
“Historical pollutants that caused climate change are not showing up,” said Mohammed Addou of Power Shift Africa. “Africa is the least responsible, the most vulnerable to climate change, and it is a continent that is stepping up and providing leadership.”
“The south is actually stepping up,” Addow told The Associated Press. “The North, which has historically caused the problem, is failing.”
For the first time, developing nations were able to put the issue of “loss and damage” — demands that emitting countries pay for damages caused by climate-induced disasters — on the summit agenda.
Nigeria’s Environment Minister Mohammed Abdullahi has called on rich nations to show “positive and affirmative” commitments to help countries most affected by climate change. “Our priority is to be aggressive when it comes to climate finance to mitigate the challenges of loss and damage,” he said.
Monday will be heavily dominated by leaders of nations affected by climate change – not those who created the problem of the heat-trapping gases warming the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. It will be mostly African nations and small island nations and other vulnerable nations telling their stories.
And they are dramatic, droughts in Africa and flooding in Pakistan, in places that can least afford it. For the first time in 30 years of climate talks, the summit “needs to focus attention on the severe climate impacts we are already seeing,” said David Waskow of World Resources International.
“We can’t discount an entire continent that has over a billion people living here and has some of the worst impacts,” Waskow said. “It is quite clear that Africa will be at very serious risk.”
Leaders are coming “to share the progress they’ve made at home and accelerate action,” Purvis said. In this case, with the passage of the first major climate legislation and $375 billion in spending, Biden has something to share, he said.
While it’s impressive that so many leaders are coming to the meeting, “my expectations for ambitious climate goals in these two days are very low,” said scientist Niklas Hohne of the NewClimate Institute. This is due to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has caused an energy and food crisis that has derailed climate action, he said.
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