SHARM EL-SHEIKH, EGYPT (AP) – “Cooperate or perish,” the United Nations (UN) chief told dozens of leaders gathered yesterday for international climate talks, warning them that the world is “on a highway to climate hell”.
This year’s annual UN climate conference comes as leaders and experts have raised increasing alarm that time is running out. But the fire and brimstone warnings may not quite have the effect as they have had before due to multiple other challenges of the moment pulling leaders’ attention.
Over 100 world leaders will speak at the gathering in Egypt. National leaders will speak about their stories of being devastated by climate disasters, culminating today with a speech by Pakistan Prime Minister Muhammad Sharif, whose country’s summer floods caused at least USD40 billion in damage and displaced millions of people.
“Is it not high time to put an end to all this suffering,” the summit’s host, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, told his fellow leaders.
“Climate change will never stop without our intervention… Our time here is limited and we must use every second that we have.’’
El-Sisi was gentle compared to a fiery UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said the world “is on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”. He called for a new pact between rich and poor countries to make deeper cuts in emissions with financial help and phasing out of coal in rich nations by 2030 and elsewhere by 2040.
“Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish,” Guterres said. “It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact – or a Collective Suicide Pact.” He insisted, “Today’s urgent crises cannot be an excuse for backsliding or greenwashing.”
But bad timing and world events were hanging over the gathering. Most of the leaders are meeting today, just as the US has a potentially policy-shifting midterm election.
The leaders of the world’s 20 wealthiest nations will have their powerful-only club confab in Bali days later.
Leaders of China and India appear to be skipping the climate talks, although underlings are negotiating.
The leader of the top polluting country, United States (US) President Joe Biden, is coming days later than most of the other presidents and prime ministers on his way to Bali. “There are big climate summits and little climate summits and this was never expected to be a big one,” said Climate Advisers CEO Nigel Purvis, a former US negotiator.
United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was initially going to avoid the negotiations, but public pressure and predecessor Boris Johnson’s plans to come changed his mind.
New King Charles III, a long-time environment advocate, won’t attend because of his new role.
“We always want more” leaders, UN climate chief said in a Sunday news conference. “But I believe there is sufficient leadership right now for us to have a very productive outcome.”
In addition to speeches given by the leaders, the negotiations include “innovative” roundtable discussions that “we are confident, will generate some very powerful insights”, Stiell said.
The leaders showing up in droves are from the host continent Africa, who are pressing for greater accountability from developed nations.
“The historical polluters who caused climate change are not showing up,’’ said Mohammed Adow of Power Shift Africa. “Africa is the least responsible, the most vulnerable to the issue of climate change and it is a continent that is stepping up and providing leadership. The South is actually stepping up,” Adow told The Associated Press. “The North that historically caused the problem is failing.’’
For the first time, developing nations succeeded in getting onto the summit agenda the issue of “loss and damage” – demands that emitting countries pay for damage caused by climate-induced disasters.