Cop27: world on ‘highway to climate hell’, says UN chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered his speech during the opening of the High Level Summit of Cop27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. (Keystone/DPA/Gehad Hamdy)

The world is on a “highway to climate hell”, the United Nations secretary general warned leaders gathered at the Cop27 summit in Egypt on Monday, urging countries to work together to cut emissions.

Speaking at the opening of the UN climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, the UN chief António Guterres urged governments to “cooperate or perish” as they sit down for two weeks of talks on how to combat climate change.

“We are in the fight of our lives, and we are losing,” said Guterres. “Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing, global temperatures keep rising, and our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

‘Historic’ pact

To combat climate change, Guterres called for the creation of a “climate solidarity pact” between wealthier and developing countries to reduce gas emissions and meet the key global climate goals, highlighting the need for big polluters to support countries more vulnerable to climate change.

As well as urging all countries to “make an extra effort” to curb emissions this decade in line with the goal of the 2015 Paris agreement to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the pact calls on wealthy countries and financial institutions to provide funds and technical assistance to help developing countries reduce emissions and cope with the effects of climate change.

Read also: War, inflation and geopolitical tensions reduce chances of breakthrough at Cop27

Countries would also agree to end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of coal plants, with specific targets to phase out coal in certain countries by 2030 and worldwide by 2040.

“Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish,” Guterres said. “It is either a climate solidarity pact — or a collective suicide pact.”

Guterres emphasised that the United States and China have a “particular responsibility to join efforts to make this pact a reality.” Cooperation between the two countries on climate change has been strained since August, when Beijing halted climate talks with Washington as part of a number of measures in retaliation for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

He noted that, despite decades of climate talks, progress had been insufficient to save the planet from climate change as countries have been too slow or reluctant to act.

“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.

The UN chief urged world leaders to prioritise building resilience to future climate change impacts, including progressing on climate adaptation.

He also called for a “roadmap” for delivering the $40 billion a year developed countries promised to contribute to support climate adaptation by 2025 during last year’s climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

“Adaptation needs are set to grow to more than $300bn dollars a year by 2030,” he said. “Half of the climate change funding must be focused on adaptation.”

He also urged the need for universal early warning systems coverage within five years to help countries prepare for future climate-related disasters.

Loss and damage

The UN chief also highlighted the need to discuss how to support vulnerable countries and communities with the fewest resources that are being devastated by the impacts of climate change.

Cop27 kicked off on Sunday with an agreement to discuss loss and damage, adding the topic to the climate conference’s official agenda for the first time in the Cop’s 27-year history.

Negotiators spent more than 40 hours over the weekend wrangling over what topics would be discussed on the agenda, with loss and damage proving particularly contentious.

“Loss and damage can no longer be swept under the rug,” Guterres said. “It is a moral imperative. It is a fundamental question of international solidarity and climate justice.”

Read also: Egypt’s Cop27 climate champion: ‘loss and damage is being ignored’

The addition of “matters relating to funding arrangements for loss and damage” to the agenda is part of a proposal put forth by a group of 134 developing countries known as the G77, chaired by Pakistan, which was battered by disastrous floods this summer.

Pakistan, which is still struggling to recover from the unprecedented monsoon rains which have affected over 30 million people in the country, is leading the push for financial compensation for the impacts of climate change on countries that contribute very little to global emissions but disproportionately suffer from their results.

“Those who contributed least to the climate crisis are reaping the whirlwind sown by others,” said Guterres. “Many are blindsided by impacts for which they had no warning or means of preparation.”

Secretary general Guterres called on all governments to “tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies” and redirect the money to countries suffering “loss and damage” as well as communities struggling with rising food and energy costs.

Read also: Least-developed countries must not become ‘carbon havens’, warns UNCTAD boss

“On addressing loss and damage, this Cop must agree on a clear, time-bound road map reflective of the scale and urgency of the challenge,” he said. “This road map must deliver effective institutional arrangements for financing. Getting concrete results on loss and damage is a litmus test of the commitment of the governments to the success of Cop27.”

Poor countries suffering loss and damage want a financial mechanism that will give them access to funding when climate-related disasters such as hurricanes, floods and droughts strike.

While it is unlikely that the current talks will provide such a mechanism, countries are hoping there may be progress on ways of raising or accessing finance.

Phasing out fossil fuels

Guterres said the goal of the 2015 Paris climate agreement to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees celsius would only stay alive if the world can achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

However, many countries with rich resources of oil, gas and coal have criticised the push for a transition away from fossil fuels, arguing it is economically reckless and unfair to less developed nations pursuing economic growth.

Taking the stage immediately after Guterres’ speech, United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahya said his country would continue to produce fossil fuels for as long as there is need.

“The UAE is considered a responsible supplier of energy and it will continue playing this role as long as the world is in need of oil and gas,” he said.

Read also: Pakistan facing funding ‘drought’ for flood recovery, warns IFRC

The UAE, which is a member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, will host next year’s UN climate conference which will try to finalise agreements made during the talks in Egypt and last year’s conference in the United Kingdom.

Countries agreed at the Cop26 conference last year to increase their pledges for action by 2030. However, only a couple of dozen have done so. The new pledges would cut global emissions by just one per cent by 2030 – falling far short of the 50 per cent cut needed by that date to meet the target of 1.5 degrees celsius.

A report released last week by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned there is “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and that progress towards the goal has been “woefully inadequate.”

Current pledges for action by 2030, if delivered in full, would mean a rise in global heating of about 2.5C, causing catastrophic extreme weather around the world.

“A window of opportunity remains open, but only a narrow shaft of light remains,” Guterres said on Monday. “The global climate fight will be won or lost in this crucial decade – on our watch. One thing is certain: those that give up are sure to lose.”