A new measure obliging the world’s wealthy and most polluting countries to face up to their responsibility to combat the real and imminent danger facing humanity if we maintain the current levels of greenhouse-gas emissions.
This was a practical translation of the slogan that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi proposed for this world summit meeting that Egypt is proud to be hosting in his opening speech on Monday. This was the “Implementation Summit,” he said. Talk about the grave dangers facing the world because of climate change is easy, and so are financial pledges that always fall short by the world’s wealthy nations to help the developing countries confront the immediate effects they are suffering from because of increasing temperatures.
Adopting “loss and damage” as an item on the summit agenda is going to be the real test in the coming years for the world’s wealthiest countries that produce over 90 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions if they are serious about implementing their pledges.
At previous climate summits, the wealthy nations pledged to devote $100 billion annually to helping the developing countries confront the disastrous effects of climate change, with these having been clearly seen in Pakistan, Somalia, and in many other parts of the world. But the world’s top polluters, led by the United States, China, and Europe, have failed to meet this figure from one year to the next.
Making things worse for the developing countries has been the fact that part of the pledges aiming to help them invest in renewable energy is offered in the form of loans and not grants, adding more burdens to their already difficult economic situation due to soaring debts and rising poverty and hunger.
By insisting that “loss and damage” must be an item on the summit agenda, Egypt and other African countries are not seeking a legal framework to hold the wealthy nations legally to account, and they are not demanding reparations. Instead, they are seeking to save the world, as was eloquently stated by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his opening remarks at the summit. “Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish,” Guterres said. “It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact — or a Collective Suicide Pact,” he added.
Guterres did not mince his words when he stated that the clock was ticking, with the planet fast approaching tipping points that could make “climate chaos irreversible.” The UN chief said that “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
The pact proposed by the UN would see all countries making extra efforts to reduce emissions, wealthier nations and international financial institutions providing assistance to emerging economies, the end of the dependence on fossil fuels and the building of coal power plants, the provision of sustainable energy for all, and uniting to combine strategy and capacities for the benefit of humankind.
Guterres asked governments to tax the windfall profits of the fossil-fuel companies and to redirect the money to people struggling with rising food and energy prices and countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis.
“The deadly impacts of climate change are here and now. The loss and damage can no longer be swept under the rug. It is a moral imperative. It is a fundamental question of international solidarity – and climate justice. Those who contributed least to the climate crisis are reaping the whirlwind sown by others,” he underscored, adding that during the COP27 Conference the world’s leaders must agree on a clear, time-bound roadmap reflective of the scale and urgency of the challenge.
President Al-Sisi was no less frank in his warning message and demand for real action. He noted that the world leaders gathered at Sharm El-Sheikh were responsible to their peoples to provide answers to “difficult but necessary questions.”
“Are we closer today to achieving our goals than we were a year ago? Have we been able to assume our responsibilities as world leaders in dealing with the most serious and influential issues of the century? The most important question that we should be asking ourselves is: does what we aspire to achieve fall under the scope of possible? Undoubtedly, it is not impossible if there is a genuine will and sincere intention to promote joint climate action and transform the outcomes of our meetings into a tangible reality,” Al-Sisi said.
While the leaders of the developing countries stressed in their speeches that they should not pay the price for disasters caused by the wealthy nations that are responsible for most greenhouse-gas emissions, Al-Sisi said that future generations should also be spared more damage. He stated that the present generation of world leaders should make a better future for the generations to come, “generations that must not bear the consequences of mistakes they have not made”.
Al-Sisi also won a lot of praise for his personal and emotional call at the end of his remarks to end the war between Russia and Ukraine. Environmental activists have been focused on how the ongoing nine-month-old war poses a major challenge to earlier pledges to cut the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. But Al-Sisi rightly noted that the developing countries can no longer bear the heavy cost of the war on their economies. This part of the world in particular was hardly recovering from the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic when the war broke out in Ukraine, causing more suffering and damage to local economies.
The message from the COP27 Climate Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, known as the City of Peace, is that we urgently need to restore cooperation among the world’s countries in order to solve the problems threatening all humanity, whether climate change or a disastrous war fought between the world’s wealthiest nations without any regard for its devastating effects on the majority of the world’s developing nations.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.