Cop27: Humanity on ‘highway to climate hell with foot on accelerator’, warns UN chief

Greenhouse gases still growing and temperatures still rising, secretary general António Guterres tells Cop27

In one of his most blistering attacks on the failure of global leadership to confront the climate crisis, UN secretary general António Guterres has told world leaders gathered at Cop27 humanity is on a “highway to climate hell”.

Speaking in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, at the opening of a two-day meeting of more than 110 leaders, including Taoiseach Micheál Martin, he warned the fight for a liveable planet would be won or lost in this decade – on their watch.

“Humanity has a choice: co-operate or perish. It is either a climate solidarity pact – or a collective suicide pact,” he told leaders whose representatives were facing into 11 days of difficult negotiations.

The pact would require all countries to make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade in line with the critical 1.5-degree goal in the Paris Agreement, Mr Guterres added.


The planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible

—  António Guterres

With the 8 billionth member of “our human family” due to be born in coming days, the milestone put into perspective what Cop27 was all about, he said. “How will we answer when ‘Baby 8 Billion’ is old enough to ask: what did you do for our world – and for our planet – when you had the chance?”

“The 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.”

Many of today’s conflicts, he said, “are linked with growing climate chaos” – a view echoed by Mr Martin during a round-table discussion with leaders on food security.

Developed countries must take the lead but emerging economies were also critical to bending the global emissions curve in transitioning towards renewables, Mr Guterres said.

If there is any doubt about loss and damage, go to Pakistan... And this Cop needs to recognise it

—  Prime minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif

The two largest economies – the United States and China – had a particular responsibility to join efforts to make a pact between developed and emerging economies a reality, he added. “This is our only hope of meeting our climate goals.”

The US is working on a plan to harness cash from the world’s largest companies to help developing countries cut their use of fossil fuels, an idea it aims to unveil at the UN climate summit this week, US climate envoy John Kerry confirmed.

He told the FT he was trying to marshal support from other governments, companies and climate experts to develop a new framework for carbon credits to be sold to business.

The proceeds could then fund new clean energy projects. Under the potentially transformational plans, regional governments or state bodies would earn carbon credits by reducing their power sector’s emissions as fossil fuel infrastructure such as coal-fired plants were cut and renewable energy increased. The credits would be certified by an independent, as-yet unspecified, accreditation body. Companies would then be able to buy the credits to offset their own carbon emissions.

Separately, Mr Kerry said he understood “why poorer nations may feel richer countries aren’t doing enough to tackle climate change”, including loss and damage.

He confirmed he was working “to keep 1.5 degrees alive”, and had forged an alliance with Norway challenging countries to make transition to green shipping and align with the target.

At an event with Mr Guterres, the prime minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif said: “If there is any doubt about loss and damage, go to Pakistan... And this Cop needs to recognise it, and needs to define a clear roadmap to deal with it. This should include the creation of an institutional framework and financing in order to address the problems of loss and damage.”

The world must “not let helplessness become a death sentence in this race against time. What goes on in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan. Let’s stand up and say no to this before it’s too late”, he added.

Ireland is prepared to go further than the €225 million it has promised under international climate finance and to step up commitments on the critical “loss and damage issues”, Mr Martin said at a briefing. This was in recognition of the plight of vulnerable countries, but also those suffering now from extreme weather events, he said.

On climate justice, French president Emmanuel Macron said confidence between global north and south was frittering away. “We must come to terms with the idea of financial solidarity,” he added. That meant rich, polluting nations handing over money to poorer, vulnerable nations.

The UK government has indicated it is prepared to consider reparations for developing countries, despite former prime minister Boris Johnson arguing that the UK could not afford such payments during a visit to Cop27.

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak helped launch a new partnership to conserve the world’s forests, which he declared “a moment of great hope” that was building on the commitment made by more than 140 countries at last year’s Cop26 summit in Glasgow to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation.

Mr Sunak said the partnership “is going to make nature and protecting nature a permanent feature of these Cop meetings”.

Earlier, he had a brief chat with the Taoiseach, and they said they looked forward to meeting at a later date.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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