SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — With the world on “a highway to climate hell with one foot on the accelerator,” the United Nations chief told dozens of leaders on Monday to “cooperate or perish”, to avoid a new climatic catastrophe , designating the two most polluting countries, China and the United States.
He was not the only one preaching in tones of fire and sulfur, alternating with pathos and tragedy, trying to shake the world’s sense of urgency at this year’s annual UN climate conference. “Choose life over death,” urged former US Vice President Al Gore. “Now is not the time for moral cowardice.”
Calling for a massive overhaul of international development loans and a 10% tax on fossil fuel companies that have made “$200 billion in profits over the past three months”, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said, “Our people on this Earth deserve better. ‘
“I need not repeat the horror and devastation that has wreaked havoc on this Earth in the past twelve months since we met in Glasgow,” Mottley said. “Whether it’s the apocalyptic floods in Pakistan or the heat waves from Europe to China or the last few days in my own region, the devastation wrought in Belize by Tropical Storm Lisa or the torrential floods of a few days ago in Saint Lucia.”
Ahead of this year’s conference, known as COP27, leaders and experts have sounded the alarm that time is running out to avoid catastrophic temperature rises. But the dire warnings may not quite have the effect they have had in previous meetings due to multiple other current challenges catching the attention of leaders – from midterm elections to states United in the Russo-Ukrainian war.
More than 100 world leaders will speak over the next few days at the rally in Egypt, with most developing countries demanding greater accountability from the richest and most polluting nations. Much of their focus will be on telling their stories of devastation from climate disasters, culminating on Tuesday with a speech by Prime Minister Muhammad Sharif of Pakistan, where summer floods caused at least $40 billion in damage and displaced millions of people.
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“Isn’t it high time to put an end to all this suffering,” the host of the summit, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, told his fellow leaders. “Climate change will never stop without our intervention… Our time here is limited and we must use every second we have.”
El-Sisi, who called for an end to the Russian-Ukrainian war, was soft on a fiery United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, who said the world “is on the road to climate hell with foot on the accelerator”.
He called for a new pact between rich and poor countries to further reduce emissions with financial assistance and phase out coal in rich countries by 2030 and elsewhere by 2040. He called on the United States and China – the two largest economies – to above all work together on the climate, which they did until recent years.
“Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish,” said António Guterres. “It is either a climate solidarity pact or a collective suicide pact.”
António Guterres insisted: “Today’s urgent crises cannot be an excuse for backsliding or greenwashing.”
But bad timing and world events hover over the rally.
Most leaders meet on Monday and Tuesday, just as the United States has midterm elections that are likely to change policy. Then the leaders of the world’s 20 richest nations will hold their most powerful club confab in Bali, Indonesia a few days later.
The leaders of China and India – both among the biggest emitters – appear to be skipping the climate talks, although underlings are negotiating here. The leader of the most polluting country, US President Joe Biden, arrives days later than most other presidents and prime ministers en route to Bali.
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“There are big climate summits and small climate summits and we didn’t expect it to be a big one,” said Climate Advisers CEO Nigel Purvis, a former US negotiator. .
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was initially going to avoid negotiations, but public pressure and his predecessor Boris Johnson’s plans changed his mind. The new King Charles III, a long-time conservationist, will not participate because of his new role. And Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine has created energy chaos that ripples through the world of climate negotiations, will not be there.
“We always want more,” UN climate chief Simon Stiell said at a press conference on Sunday. “But I believe there is enough (leadership) at the moment that we have a very productive outcome.”
In addition to speeches by the leaders, the negotiations include “innovative” panel discussions that “we are confident will generate some very powerful ideas,” Stiell said.
Leaders showing up en masse come from the host continent, Africa.
“The historical polluters who caused climate change are not showing up,” said Mohammed Adow of Power Shift Africa. “Africa is the least responsible, the most vulnerable to the issue of climate change and it is a continent that is stepping up and providing leadership.”
“The South is stepping up,” Adow told The Associated Press. “The North that historically caused the problem is failing.”
For the first time, developing countries succeeded in putting the issue of “loss and damage” – the claims that emitting countries pay for damage caused by climate-induced disasters – on the summit agenda.
Nigerian Environment Minister Mohammed Abdullahi has called on wealthy nations to show “positive and affirmative” commitments to help countries hardest hit by climate change. “Our priority is to be aggressive on climate finance to mitigate the challenges of loss and damage,” he said.
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Monday will be heavily dominated by leaders of nations affected by climate change – not those who created the problem of heat-trapping gases warming the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. It will mainly be African nations and small island nations and other vulnerable nations that will tell their stories.
And these are dramatic episodes, droughts in Africa and floods in Pakistan, in places that could least afford it. For the first time in 30 years of climate negotiations, the summit “should focus its attention on the severe climate impacts we are already seeing”, said David Waskow of World Resources International.
“We cannot ignore an entire continent that has over a billion people and is experiencing some of the most severe impacts,” Waskow said. “It is quite clear that Africa will be threatened in a very serious way.”
The leaders come “to share the progress they’ve made at home and to accelerate action,” Purvis said. In this case, with the passage of the first major climate legislation and $375 billion in spending, Biden has a lot to share, he said.
While it’s impressive to see so many leaders coming to the summit, “my expectations for ambitious climate goals over these two days are very low,” said NewClimate Institute scientist Niklas Hohne. It was because of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine that caused energy and food crises that prevented climate action, he said.
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