UN chief says world risks 'collective suicide'

‘Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish,’ Guterres told the UN COP27 summit in Egypt

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned world leaders at a climate summit in Egypt on Monday that humanity faces a stark choice between working together or "collective suicide" in the battle against global warming.

Nearly 100 heads of state and government met for two days in Sharm el-Sheikh, facing calls to deepen emissions cuts and financially back developing countries already devastated by the effects of rising temperatures.

"Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish," Guterres told the UN COP27 summit. 

"It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact or a Collective Suicide Pact," Guterres said, urging the world to ramp up the transition to renewable energy and for richer polluting nations to come to the aid of poorer countries least responsible for heat-trapping emissions.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres speaks during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 7, 2022 Reuters

Nations, including Bangladesh, worldwide are coping with increasingly intense natural disasters that have taken thousands of lives this year alone and cost billions of dollars.

A multitude of other crises, from Russia's war in Ukraine to soaring inflation and the lingering effects of the Covid pandemic, has raised concerns that climate change will drop down the priority list of governments. 

Guterres, however, told world leaders that climate change could not be put on the "back burner".

He called for a "historic" deal between rich emitters and emerging economies that would see countries double down on emissions reductions, holding the rise in temperatures to the more ambitions Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era.   

Current trends would see carbon pollution increase 10% by the end of the decade and put the world on a path to heat up to 2.8C.

World leaders pose for a family photo during the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 7, 2022 Reuters

"We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator," Guterres said.

Meanwhile, more than 25 countries at the conference launched a group on Monday to hold each other accountable for a pledge to end deforestation by 2030, announcing billions of dollars in additional financing for the effort.

The new group - which includes Japan, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and others - accounts for roughly 35% of the world's forests and aims to meet twice a year to track progress.

'Moral imperative'

The UN secretary-general said the target should be to provide renewable and affordable energy for all, calling on the US and China in particular to lead the way.

He also said it was a "moral imperative" for richer polluters to help vulnerable countries.

Earlier on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron urged the US, China and other non-European rich nations to "step up" their efforts to cut emissions and provide financial aid to other countries.

File photo: A demonstrator approaches a boat stuck in the dried-up bank of a canal, during a rally at the Umm El Wadaa marsh, south-east of the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah in the southern Dhi Qar province, on August 16, 2022 AFP

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose country is the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases, skipped the summit.

US President Joe Biden, whose country ranks second on the top-polluters list, will join COP27 later this week.

'Loss and damage'

On Sunday, the heads of developing nations won a small victory when delegates agreed to put the controversial issue of compensation for "loss and damage" on the summit agenda.

The US and the EU have dragged their feet for years on the proposal, fearing it would create an open-ended reparations framework.

On that front, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a recent article wrote: “This pledged financial support from developed countries should be considered a moral obligation - and it is vital to climate-vulnerable countries such as mine.

“This can't be left to some future date either,” she added.

File Photo: Internally Displaced Flood Affected People Shift Husk For Their Animals In A Flood Hit Area Following Heavy Rains In Balochistan On September 7 Afp

The words of the international community must turn to deeds, once and for all, the premier insisted.

Guterres on Monday 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.

Rich nations will also be expected to set a timetable for the delivery of $100 billion per year to help developing countries green their economies and build resilience against future climate change. 

The promise is already two years past due and remains $17 billion short.