UN chief, Gore, others give heated warnings in climate talks

Jordanian King Abdullah II, left, and Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, center, walk as leaders prepare themselves for a group photo at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

The Associated Press

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt -- With the world on "a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator," the United Nations chief on Monday told dozens of leaders to "cooperate or perish," singling out the two biggest polluting countries, China and the United States.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wasn't alone in preaching with tones of fire and brimstone to try to shake up the world's sense of urgency at this year's annual U.N. climate conference.

"Choose life over death," former U.S. Vice President Al Gore urged. "It is not time for moral cowardice."

Some of the strongest pleas for action came from leaders of poor nations that caused little of the pollution but often get a larger share of the weather-related damage. Several called on developed nations for reparations, which in climate negotiations is called "loss and damage."

"Africa should not pay for crimes they have not committed," Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera said, adding that rich nations were to blame for the climate problem.

"Climate change is directly threatening our people's lives, health and future," Kenyan President William K. Ruto said of the African continent, which he said is looking at $50 billion a year in climate change damage by 2050. Ruto said Kenya is choosing to not use many of its "dirty energy" resources even though it could help the poor nation financially, and has instead opted for cleaner fuels.

Loss and damage "is our daily experience and the living nightmare of millions of Kenyans and hundreds of millions of Africans," Ruto said.

Seychelles President Wavel John Charles Ramkalawan said, "Like other islands, our contribution in the destruction of the planet is minimal. Yet we suffer the most." He called on wealthier countries to assist in repairing the damage.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for a massive overhaul of international development loans and a 10% tax on fossil fuel companies, which she said made "$200 billion in profits in the last three months."

"I don't need to repeat the horror and the devastation wrecked upon this Earth over the course of the last 12 months since we met in Glasgow," Mottley said. "Whether the apocalyptic floods in Pakistan or the heat waves from Europe to China or indeed in the last few days in my own region, the devastation caused in Belize by Tropical Storm Lisa or the torrential floods a few days ago in St. Lucia."

Ahead of this year's conference, known as COP27, leaders and experts have been ringing alarm bells that time is running out to avert catastrophic rises in temperature. But the warnings may not have the impact of past meetings because of multiple other challenges pulling leaders' attention -- from midterm elections in the U.S. to the Russia-Ukraine war.

"In the fight for life on Earth, no one is a bystander," said Jordan's King Abdullah. "Every contribution counts. COP27 has brought us together to link forces and stand our ground. We are at the beginning of a long, challenging and urgent transformation."

More than 100 world leaders will speak over the next days at the gathering in Egypt, most from developing countries demanding greater accountability from the richest, most polluting nations. Much of their focus will be on telling their stories of devastation by climate disasters, including a speech Tuesday by Prime Minister Muhammad Sharif of Pakistan, where summer floods caused at least $40 billion in damage and displaced millions of people.

"Climate change will never stop without our intervention," the summit's host, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, said.