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Guterres to humanity: In the race to fight climate change, it's 'cooperate or perish'

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has a message for humanity: Join a "climate solidarity pact" or a "suicide pact" – before it's too late.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres speaks to the climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres speaks to the climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (AN/UNIC Tokyo/Momoko Sato)

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for a "climate solidarity pact" among nations rich and poor to limit the Earth's overheating as negotiators from around the world got to work at a two-week summit in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh seaside resort.

"We are in the fight of our lives. And we are losing," Guterres told the 27th gathering of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP27, on Monday. "It is the defining issue of our age. It is the central challenge of our century."

Guterres said greenhouse gas emissions keep growing, global temperatures keep rising, and our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.

"We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator," he said. "Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact – or a Collective Suicide Pact."

Establishing a solidarity pact, Guterres said, would mean joining developed and emerging economies in the goal of making an "extra effort to reduce emissions this decade" in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement's preferred limit of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in average global temperature rise above pre-historic levels.

It also would demand that wealthier countries and international financial institutions provide financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed their own renewable energy transition, he said, and end the world's dependence on fossil fuels and the building of new coal plants, including phasing out coal in the 38 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, by 2030 – and everywhere else by 2040.

"The two largest economies – the United States and China – have a particular responsibility to join efforts to make this pact a reality," he said. "This is our only hope of meeting our climate goals."

Ahead of the summit, which opened on Sunday, negotiators determined that the talks will include the complex issue of "loss and damage" – essentially reparations, or what polluters owe to others for creating the crisis. An agreement to discuss the vexing issue cleared the way for the most vulnerable nations to press the richest Western industrial powers for the tens of billions of dollars a year or more that they will need to try to deal with and adapt to climate change.

The decision to discuss the issue came "after Herculian consultations over the last 48 hours," Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, elected president of COP27, told reporters. The summit's leaders, he said, were "delighted to have adopted for the first time an agenda item on the most important issue of loss and damage."

The debate over who should be obliged to pay for what is "recognized by the vast majority of the international community as a very fundamental issue, one that has to be addressed and dedication because of what we all see in the span of one year of the consequences related to climate change that have affected millions of citizens across the world."

Who should pay?

In the runup to the summit, the United Nations and other international organizations released grim new reports and forecasts that reinforced the threats and risks of more devastating droughts, floods and wildfires that have already hit many regions of the world.

"It's clear that the world needs to come together to align itself with the magnitude of the crisis we face. That is why we have come together in these very difficult geopolitical times," said Simon Stiell, executive director of U.N. Climate Change, which hosts the talks.

"And we have an opportunity, if we are able to create a safe political space within this compound, to focus on the matters at hand in terms of addressing the climate crisis," he said. "I can see that there are areas of common ground."

One of the lead negotiators who oversaw the consultations on "loss and damage" financial responsibilities, Jennifer Morgan, Germany's state secretary and special envoy for climate action, said "looking ahead this means making full use of the space on the agenda we created to discuss strengthening support for loss and damage."

That offers an opportunity for "serious progress on a mitigation work program that gets us in a place to prevent even more devastating impacts," she said. More than 40,000 participants and 110 world leaders are expected during the two weeks of talks.

But the participants are meeting amid a series of latest scientific assessments that show a world headed for 2.6 degrees C. of warming, far above the upper limit of 2 degrees C. set in the Paris treaty at the 2015 U.N. climate summit.

The 1.5 degrees C. goal will be difficult because the world has already warmed by 1.2 degrees C. Experts say nations will have to massively cut emissions and take other urgent actions to successfully fulfill the treaty's obligations.