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COP27: UN chief warns world is on path to 'climate hell'

November 7, 2022

"Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the start of the COP27 summit in Egypt. Meanwhile, Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned against a "renaissance of fossil fuels."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the COP27 summit
Guterres pointed to the US and China to help his idea of a climate pactImage: Gehad Hamdy/dpa/picture alliance

Humanity must cooperate on cutting carbon emissions or face a bleak future, UN chief Antonio Guterres told the opening of the COP27 climate summit on Monday.

The two-day gathering of world leaders opened in Cairo, with hopes of substantive progress dimmed due to the current geopolitical tension and economic volatility.

What did the UN boss tell leaders?

"Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish," Guterres told the conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. "It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact or a Collective Suicide Pact."

The UN chief warned that, on the current trajectory, "we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator."

Guterres called for a pact between the world's richest and poorest countries to accelerate a shift from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources. He called for more rapid delivery of funds to help less affluent nations reduce emissions, and to buffer them against the unavoidable impact of climate change.

"The two largest economies — the United States and China — have a particular responsibility to join efforts to make this pact a reality," he said.

Guterres also said COP27 must agree on a "clear, time-bound roadmap" for loss and damage that delivers "effective institutional arrangements for financing."

"Getting concrete results on loss and damage is a litmus test of the commitment of governments to the success of COP27," he said.

Climate change is accelerating, major UN report warns

Scholz calls for more cooperation

Speaking in Sharm el-Sheikh, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has promised to increase by 2025 German contribution for international climate financing to €6 billion ($6.02 billion) annually.

In addition, Germany will provide €170 million ($170.5 million) for a global protective umbrella to cushion the damage caused by climate catastrophes such as droughts, hurricanes or floods.

In his speech, Scholz warned against a "renaissance of fossil fuels" such as oil, gas and coal. "For Germany, I say there will be no such thing," he said.

He also reiterated the goal that Germany should become climate-neutral by 2045. "Not less but more speed, more ambition, more cooperation in the transition to renewable energies is the imperative of our time," Scholz said.

What did other world leaders say?

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on climate commitments.  

"Even if our world has changed, the climate issue cannot be a balancing item of the war unleashed by Russia on Ukrainian soil (...) We will not sacrifice our commitments to the climate due to the Russian threat in terms of energy so all countries must continue to uphold all their commitments," he said. 

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak struck a much more optimistic tone than other leaders. “We can turn our struggle against climate change into a global mission for new jobs and new growth and we can bequeath our children a greener planet,'' Sunak said. “There really is room for hope. Let us fulfill it,” he added.

What’s the background to the summit? 

The summit takes place with world economies reeling from a barrage of international crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, there is concern that the world is backsliding on commitments to slash global emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010's levels. It's hoped that such a reduction could help meet the targets of the 2015 Paris Agreement — limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above late 19th-century levels. 

Under some predictions, current trends would see carbon pollution actually increase by 10% by the end of the decade, and a 2.8-degree Celsius increase. 

With just a 1.2-degree Celsius increase so far, the impact of climate change is already notable with an increase in the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events. They range from major droughts in the Horn of Africa, which have forced millions to the brink of starvation, to deadly flooding in Pakistan. 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose vast nation emits more greenhouse gases than any other in overall terms, is not attending the summit. 

US President Joe Biden, whose country rates second in the emissions stakes, but still well above China in per capita terms, will join COP27 later this week. That follows midterm elections on Tuesday that could give control of the US Congress to Republicans hostile to international action on climate change. 

dh, rc/dj (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)