The global climate summit is under way in Sharm el-Shekih, Egypt, with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warning Monday that the world’s nations, especially the wealthiest countries, must act quickly to avert ecological ruin.
“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,” Guterres declared at the annual U.N.-led international talks. “We are in the fight of our lives, and we are losing.”
Key to the discussions this year is how and to what extent the world’s richest, industrialized countries that account for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, including the United States, need to assist impoverished nations that often bear the brunt of climate change.
The conference officially opened Sunday as the World Meteorological Organization said that the Earth had likely witnessed its warmest eight years on record, which includes the period since the world’s nations approved the landmark Paris climate change agreement in 2015. The agreement called for a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions with a transformation toward clean energy sources and diminishing use of fossil fuels to slow down global warming.
In the past year alone, there have been devastating heat waves across the northern hemisphere, catastrophic flooding in Pakistan and Nigeria, a punishing drought in China and a destructive hurricane in the southern U.S. state of Florida.
The summit is officially called COP27, because it is the 27th U.N.-sponsored meeting of the “conference of parties” dealing with climate change. In his opening remarks, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called on leaders to act with urgency to implement their previous commitments to combat climate change.
“For the sake of future generations, here and now we are facing a unique historical moment, a last chance to meet our responsibilities,” he said.
The U.N. said that 110 heads of state and government plan to address the conference, a larger number than at many previous climate conferences. U.S. President Joe Biden is planning to attend the conference on Friday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden would speak on the “significant work the United States has undertaken to advance the global climate fight and help the most vulnerable build resilience to climate impacts, and he will highlight the need for the world to act in this decisive decade.”
In her remarks Monday, the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, said the inability of vulnerable countries to cope with climate hazards is linked to history. She said that countries in the northern part of the world still control the money that those of the global south need in order to move away from the use of fossil fuels.
She restated her call for an overhaul of international development institutions like the World Bank.
“This world looks too much like it did when it was part of an imperialistic empire,” she said.
The incoming chair of the talks, Sameh Shoukry, said, “The inclusion of this agenda reflects a sense of solidarity and empathy with the suffering of the victims of climate-induced disasters and to this end we all owe a debt of gratitude to activists and civil society organizations who have persistently demanded a space to discuss funding for loss and damage. And that’s provided the impetus needed to bring this matter forward.”
John Podesta, a senior adviser to Biden on climate change, told The Washington Post that government funding alone cannot cover what vulnerable countries need.
According to one estimate, about $3.8 trillion in annual investment is needed in the next three years to meet the world’s climate goals, but a new report by the Rockefeller Foundation and BCG Research says that only 16% of that money is now flowing.
“Private-sector capital flows … that’s where the real money is,” Podesta said. “We’re talking billions when the need is trillions. We’ve got to unlock that [private-sector] capacity for people to make investments in building a clean-energy future or else we’ll miss both the development goals and the climate goals.”