Leaders of the developing world demanded that wealthy nations spend vastly more to help vulnerable populations adjust to a warming planet, as a United Nations climate conference started with growing anger toward industrialized countries reluctant to pay for the consequences of climate change.
“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,” warned U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, as he opened two weeks of talks, known as COP27, in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. Countries have agreed to start talking for the first time about the world’s wealthy nations paying a form of climate reparations to the most vulnerable countries.
The annual U.N. climate gathering is the main venue for nations to come together to try to cooperate on efforts to fight global warming. This year, policymakers have agreed to start talking about the developing world’s demands for more help with the harm they are already suffering from climate change, as farmland dries up, towns relocate to escape rising seas, and conflicts increase over access to increasingly scarce resources.
“We are getting dangerously close to the point of no return,” Guterres said.
But there was every indication that talks about “loss and damage” would end without significant breakthroughs. After hours of bargaining over the weekend about what items to include in the agenda, rich nations said that even including the subject in the official talks was a major step. Vulnerable countries said it was the bare minimum.
The gathering“offers us an opportunity to either make history or, if you like, be a victim of history,” Senegalese President Macky Sall told leaders, speaking on behalf of African nations in his capacity as chair of the African Union.
“Those who pollute the most should pay the most in order to get our planet off this track of climate crisis,” Sall said.
After a year of catastrophic flooding in Pakistan and Nigeria, widespread drought and the hottest-ever summer in Europe, policymakers said the toll of climate change is becoming ever more apparent. But they worried that the political will by the world’s richest nations to help their more vulnerable peers is limited. Fury among those most affected by global warming is rising in proportion.
Amid soaring global inflation, the war in Ukraine and a narrowing political path in Washington for President Biden to act ambitiously on climate issues, expectations for the talks were lower than for those in Scotland a year ago. Last year, advocates for action held hopes that the Biden administration was ready to reengage on climate issues after President Donald Trump’s climate-skeptic term in office. This year, the frustration is more palpable, with countries failing to live up to their existing promises even after some in Glasgow pledged to deliver more-ambitious climate goals.
The bitterness is compounded by the choice of Egypt, a nation with a long record of human rights violations, as host. The climate movement gained steam through free speech and demonstrations, but Egyptian authorities have banished protests to the periphery of Sharm el-Sheikh, all but eliminating them and forcing activists to employ more subdued strategies. And one of the country’s most prominent political prisoners, the British Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, entered his second day of withholding both food and water in a prison cell outside Cairo to protest his detention.
He is serving five years after being convicted of spreading false news to undermine national security, which rights groups have decried as a sham.
The head winds do not bode well for efforts to limit average global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels, a level beyond which scientists say disastrous effects become more likely. — Michael Birnbaum, Allyson Chiu and Sarah Kaplan