Rich countries must agree historic pact to help poor address climate crisis or ‘we are doomed’, UN warns

Deepening gulf between the developed and developing world casts doubt over the ability of COP27 to secure a significant breakthrough

Rich countries must agree a “historic pact” to help the poor address the climate crisis, or “we will be doomed”, UN secretary general António Guterres has warned in advance of 120 world leaders gathering for COP27, the UN climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

His warning came with indications of a deepening gulf between the developed and developing world, which has already cast doubt over the ability of COP27 to secure a significant breakthrough.

Mr Guterres acknowledged on Friday it was taking place amid the worst geopolitical tensions for years arising from the Ukraine war, a cost-of-living crisis and deepening economic gloom. But the gulf must be bridged if humanity was to have a hope of avoiding the worst ravages of climate breakdown, he said.

“There is no way we can avoid a catastrophic situation, if the two [the developed and developing world] are not able to establish a historic pact,” he said. “Because at the present level, we will be doomed.”


His warning came as the Egyptian diplomat in charge of running the negotiations over the next two weeks accused governments of making positive climate action commitments in public but rowing back on them later behind closed doors in negotiating rooms.

Echoing Mr Guterres’s words, Wael Aboulmagd said urgently needed progress would not be achieved if countries continued to adopt adversarial positions.

“Political statements and pledges are made in front of the cameras, but in the negotiating rooms it’s back to the adversarial approach. These will not be of value until translated into the negotiating rooms, and that has not been the case so far,” he added.

Egypt has been frustrated by countries making positive statements in public that do not reflect blockages that have appeared in the negotiations on vital issues such as climate finance, loss and damage, cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and commitments to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees.

A series of UN scientific reports issued in the past 10 days indicate the world is unlikely to contain warming to 1.5 degrees based on current levels of carbon emissions – with the planet set for a rise of more than 2.5 degrees this century, which would lead to increasingly catastrophic impacts.

“We can’t continue on this adversarial path,” Mr Aboulmagd said on Friday. “The separation between what is happening in the public sphere and what is happening in the negotiating rooms cannot continue. We all need to show a spirit of compromise.”

The talks begin formally on Sunday when heads of delegation meet to agree the agenda, but many delegations have already arrived, and countries have been meeting online and in person in various alliances over recent months.

On Monday, heads of state and government including Taoiseach Micheál Martin will gather for two days of intensive discussions, to thrash out positions to be taken by their negotiators over the following days of talks.

US president Joe Biden will not be at the leaders’ summit owing to the US midterm elections but is expected to attend at the midway point. China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi of India and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are not expected to attend.

Few governments of rich countries are planning to set major new goals on cutting carbon emissions, or on providing new financial help to developing countries struggling with the climate emergency. Climate finance will be a key bone of contention, along with the vexed question of loss and damage, which refers to assistance for the severe impacts that vulnerable countries are increasingly facing from extreme weather.

Many countries want loss and damage to feature prominently on the agenda, but that cannot be formalised until Sunday when the talks begin.

Mr Aboulmagd told journalists that showing progress on climate finance was key. Developing countries have been promised that $100 billion (€100.4 billion) a year would be provided from 2020, to help them cut emissions and adapt to the impacts of extreme weather, but that pledge has not yet been met.

“The $100 billion is not going to come close to even a fraction of the sums needed, those numbers are in the trillions,” he added. “But it is a very important gesture of a symbolic nature, showing confidence and creating trust.”

Civil society participants have been concerned in the run-up to the talks that their activities would be restricted, as Egypt is an authoritarian state that clamps down on protest.

Mr Aboulmagd confirmed a major public demonstration would be permitted in Sharm el-Sheikh, but protesters would have to register and be accepted before joining the march while agreeing the route with city authorities.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times