During opening remarks at the COP27 climate meeting in Egypt on Monday, world leaders and diplomats presented the struggle against global warming as a battle for human life, with the chief of the United Nations proclaiming that the lack of progress to date had the globe hurtling down a “motorway to hell.”
As governments began two weeks of discussions in the coastal resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to determine how to prevent the worst effects of climate change, the grim words, which were echoed by the leaders of African, European, and Middle Eastern nations alike, set an urgent tone.
“Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told delegates, urging them to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels and speed funding to poorer countries struggling under climate impacts that have already occurred.
Despite decades of climate talks so far, countries have failed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and their pledges to do so in the future are insufficient to keep the climate from warming to a level scientists say will be catastrophic.
Land war in Europe, deteriorating diplomatic ties between top emitters the United States and China, rampant inflation, and tight energy supplies threaten to distract countries further away from combating climate change, Guterres said, threatening to derail the transition to clean energy.
“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. “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, also speaking at the event, said global leaders have a credibility problem when it comes to climate change and criticized developed nations’ ongoing pursuit of gas resources in Africa, which he described as “fossil fuel colonialism.”
“We have a credibility problem all of us: We’re talking and we’re starting to act, but we’re not doing enough,” Gore said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that, while the world was distracted by a confluence of global crises, it was important not to sacrifice national commitments to fight climate change.
“We will not sacrifice our commitments to the climate due to the Russian threat in terms of energy,” Macron said, “so all countries must continue to uphold all their commitments.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the war was a reason to accelerate efforts to wean the world off fossil fuels.
“Climate security goes hand in hand with energy security, Putin’s abhorrent war in Ukraine, and rising energy prices across the world are not a reason to go slow on climate change. They are a reason to act faster,” he said.