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The world is ‘on a highway to climate hell’ without urgent action to cut emissions, UN chief says

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres told countries gathered at the start of the COP27 summit in Egypt on Monday they face a stark choice: work together now to cut emissions or condemn future generations to climate catastrophe.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Al Gore talk about stakes as COP27 conference opens in Egypt

COP27 climate summit begins with grim warnings from global leaders

6 hours ago

Duration 2:05

The COP 27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, has opened on a grim note from global leaders: the 1.5-degree warming target is likely impossible. The question now is how much worse the world lets things get, and who ends up paying for it.

World leaders and diplomats framed the fight against global warming as a battle for human survival during opening speeches at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt on Monday, with the head of the United Nations declaring a lack of progress so far had the world speeding down a "highway to hell."

The stark messages, echoed by the heads of African, European and Middle Eastern nations alike, set an urgent tone as governments began two weeks of talks in the seaside resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to figure out how to avert the worst of climate change.

  • What questions do you have about COP27? We want to hear from you about the climate conference. Send an email to ask@cbc.ca or join us live in the comments.

"Humanity has a choice: co-operate or perish," UN 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.

WATCH l Compensation for developing nations expected to be a tough sell:

Climate compensation added to COP27 negotiations

1 day ago

Duration 2:20

Developing nations have successfully added compensation for past climate damage to the COP27 negotiations, following news that keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees is now very unlikely.

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."

In its annual state of the climate report, the UN's weather agency the World Meteorological Organization said that sea level rise in the past decade was double what it was in the 1990s, and since January 2020 has jumped at a higher rate than that. Since the decade began, seas are rising at five millimetres a year, compared to 2.1 mm in the 1990s.

'We have a credibility problem'

Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, meanwhile, had pointed words for world leaders on Monday, criticizing developed nations' pursuit of gas resources in Africa.

"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 during a speech at the opening ceremony of the summit. "We must see the so-called 'dash for gas' for what it really is: a dash down a bridge to nowhere, leaving the countries of the world facing climate chaos and billions in stranded assets, especially here in Africa.

"We have to move beyond the era of fossil fuel colonialism."

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," he said. "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."

U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to arrive in Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday, after his country's midterm elections. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, is sitting this one out; Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault will instead lead Canada's delegation.

LISTEN | Why this science journalist feels both 'buoyant optimism' and 'abject despair':

Front Burner26:06As COP27 begins, a new picture of our climate future emerges

David Wallace-Wells, the acclaimed science journalist and author of The Uninhabitable Earth, says the past few years have given him reason to feel both "buoyant optimism" and "abject despair" about the future of climate change. As the COP27 climate summit kicks into gear, we're speaking to Wallace-Wells about both — and we're going to start by talking about the good news. While we aren't currently on track to keep global warming down to the levels the scientific community has called for, the worst-case scenarios are also looking far less likely than they did even a few years ago. There's more and more evidence that the actions the world has taken so far really have made a difference — and that we still have significant capacity to determine the kind of world that lies ahead.

UAE to carry on pumping oil, gas

While leaders tended to agree on the risks of global warming, their speeches revealed huge rifts, including over whether fossil fuels could play a role in a climate-friendly future, and who should pay for climate damage that has already occurred.

Immediately after Guterres's speech, United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan took the stage and said his country, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, would continue to produce fossil fuels for as long as there is a need.

"The UAE is considered a responsible supplier of energy and it will continue playing this role as long as the world is in need of oil and gas," he said.

The UAE will host next year's UN conference, which will attempt to finalize agreements made last year in Britain and at this year's Egyptian talks.

Many countries with rich resources of oil, gas and coal have criticized the push for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, arguing it is economically reckless and unfair to poorer and less developed nations keen for economic growth.

"We are for a green transition that is equitable and just, instead of decisions that jeopardize our development," said Macky Sall, President of Senegal and chair of the African Union.

Poorer countries that bear little responsibility for historic carbon emissions have also been arguing they should be compensated by rich nations for losses from climate-fuelled disasters including floods, storms and wildfires.

Signatories to the 2015 Paris climate agreement pledged to achieve a long-term goal of keeping global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. Scientists have set this as the ceiling for avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Guterres said that goal will only stay alive if the world can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. He asked countries to agree to phase out the use of coal, one of the most carbon-intense fuels, by 2040 globally, with members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development hitting that mark by 2030.

Read the latest World Meteorological Organization global climate report:Mobile users: View the document

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The head of the International Monetary Fund told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference that climate targets depend on achieving a global carbon price of at least $75 US a tonne by the end of the decade, and that the pace of change in the real economy was still "way too slow."

The World Trade Organization, meanwhile, said in a report published on Monday that it should tackle trade barriers for low-carbon industries to address the role of global trade in driving climate change.

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