UN secretary-general António Guterres says humanity can either cooperate on substantive action to halt climate change or face a “shared suicide” by letting the disastrous effects of global warming continue unabated.
The stark message was delivered at the opening of COP27 – the annual UN climate change summit, this year held in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Guterres has called for a Climate Solidarity Pact which would see nations take additional carbon reductions measures, including the transfer of finance from wealthy nations to developing economies.
He singled out global superpowers China and the United States as needing to shoulder “particular responsibility” to bring such a proposal into being.
“This is our only hope of meeting our climate goals,” Guterres says.
“It is the defining issue of our age. It is the central challenge of our century. It is unacceptable, outrageous and self-defeating to put it on the back burner.
“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
War in Ukraine a result of perilous climate
Guterres went further in his address by singling out geopolitical conflict like the war between Russia and Ukraine as the product of “fossil fuel addiction.”
The consequences of that conflict have been an increase in the price of fossil fuels – like gas – which have rippled across neighbouring European nations and the wider world.
In a brief appearance at COP27, British prime minister Rishi Sunak called for the climate fight to become “a global mission for new jobs and clean growth” and to “move further and faster” to keep global average temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
That is, however, a preferable target under the language of the Paris Climate Agreement. Experts are increasingly describing such a target as borderline, and likely to be exceeded in coming years.
The World Meteorological Organization this week declared 1.5°C as “barely within reach”.
Given the slow pace of global action, containing warming to below two degrees appears more likely. However, that is reliant on developed economies substantially cutting fossil fuel use and implementing renewable energy generation at scale.
Solutions proposed by the UN secretary-general include implementing taxation on oil companies’ windfall profits and redirect proceeds to developing nations as part of climate finance measures to help buffer against climate change.
The world’s developing countries – located closer to the equator than more developed northern hemisphere nations – are expected to be disproportionately impacted by climate change effects.
Finance is expected to be a sticking point at the COP27 negotiations, despite a UN Environment Programme report finding less than a third of US$100 billion climate finance has been delivered since it was committed at the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009.
The required global funding for adaptation measures is expected to be in excess of US$300 billion by the end of the decade.
COP27 continues for the remainder of the week, with negotiations to focus on loss and damage compensation and adaptation finance.
Matthew Agius is a science writer for Cosmos Magazine.
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