SHARM EL-SHEIKH: The United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres on Monday (Nov 7) warned that the planet is on a “highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”, as the world leaders' summit began at COP27, the annual UN climate change conference.
Mr Guterres’ stark language was yet another call for urgent action, following a year of unprecedented climate-driven disasters across the globe and a lack of progress on reducing emissions or delivering financial assistance to poorer nations.
“The clock is ticking. We are in the fight of our lives, and we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible,” he said at the opening ceremony of the summit.
He called for a “historic” climate solidarity pact between developed and developing economies, “in which all countries make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade" in line with the goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
COP27, being held at the beachside resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, has been framed as an implementation summit, where parties are encouraged to come forward with concrete measures and actions and to deliver on past promises.
The latest climate data shows the planet on track for at least a 1.7 degrees Celsius temperature rise over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.
Negotiations in Egypt, and at the previous COP in Glasgow, have the wider ambition of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius - seen as an important tipping point, beyond which impacts will become incrementally worse.
Mr Guterres also urged world leaders in the room to agree on a clear timebound roadmap for loss and damage, the notion that developed nations responsible for climate change should provide financial assistance to nations suffering the worst impacts and unable to adapt.
Loss and damage was officially added to the COP27 agenda on Sunday, following a push from Pakistan, the current leader of the G77 coalition of developing nations.
“Loss and damage can no longer be swept under the rug. It is a moral imperative. It is a fundamental question of international solidarity and climate justice,” he said.
“Those who contributed least to the climate crisis are reaping the whirlwind sown by others."
Mr Guterres said that wealthier countries and international financial institutions should provide more financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed their own renewable energy transition.
He called for “universal early warning system coverage” within five years for nations continuing to be blindsided by climate impacts, and the compete global phasedown of coal by 2040.
Contrastingly, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, spoke of the importance of his country’s oil and gas industry, during his opening speech.
He framed his country as a reliable producer of energy that the world needs. The UAE will host next year’s COP, to be held in Dubai.
Earlier, Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi welcomed world leaders and delegates to COP27, calling for urgent action on climate change while “the planet has become a world of suffering today”.
“We have seen one catastrophe after another. As soon as we tackle one, another arises. Wave after wave of suffering,” he said. “Is it not high time to put an end to all of this suffering?”
“People around the world have thorny difficult questions, and we must address these questions,” he said.
“Have we faced our responsibilities, as leaders, to address climate change and protect the vulnerable? Can we achieve our goals? Can we all work together? Do we have any other choice?
“What does the world need today to overcome today’s climate change crisis and to implement the content of our agreements? Surely there is no more time to hesitate,” he said.