The annual United Nations Climate Change Summit kicked off on Sunday, a summit titled by the host country, Egypt, as a “milestone” in dealing with the issue of climate change, while the United Nations urges countries to use the summit to negotiate a “historic agreement” to reduce carbon emissions.
More than 120 state leaders will attend the summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
About 30,000 people are participating in the two-week summit, though some activists refused to attend due to concerns about Egypt’s human rights record.
Last year saw severe weather and this has long been linked to climate change.
The summit opened with speeches from the President of the Climate Change Summit, Simon Steele, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
Steele previously served as foreign minister for Grenada, a Caribbean nation facing an existential threat from climate change.
Last week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the conference would be “a defining moment for a step to deal with climate change.”
There will also be keynote speeches from diplomats and scholars including Hosung Lee, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
And at the recent climate summit, in Glasgow last year, there were powerful rhetoric from people like Barbados Prime Minister Mia Motley, who told a throbbing audience that a two-degree warming was a “death sentence” for island nations.
World leaders will speak on Monday and Tuesday, and once they leave, conference delegates will move on to the work of negotiating.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to urge world leaders to move “bigger and faster” in the transition to renewable energy.
Sunak will meet French President Emmanuel Macron at the summit this week, and the issue of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats is likely to be raised.
At last year’s COP-26 summit in Glasgow, a number of pledges were agreed upon:
- ‘phasing out’ the use of coal, one of the most polluting fossil fuels
- Stop deforestation by 2030
- Reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030
- Submit new climate action plans to the United Nations
Steele called for this summit to focus on turning last year’s pledges into action, and “moving towards the massive transformation that needs to happen”.
However, all of this will need money to finance its implementation projects.
The developing countries, which are hardest hit by climate change, are demanding that they stick to previous funding commitments.
But she also wants there to be a discussion about financing “loss and damage”, that is, money to help them adapt to the losses they already face from climate change, rather than just preparing for future impacts. This will be the first time that the issue has been placed on the official agenda of the conference.
The importance of the issue of climate change has been evident over the past 12 months, with devastating floods in Pakistan as well as in places like Nigeria, and extreme heat in India and Europe in summer.
Ahead of the conference, a series of key climate reports were released outlining progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The UN Environment Program’s Emissions Gap Report concluded that there is no “credible path” to keeping global temperatures rising below the key threshold of 1.5 degrees above, pre-industrial levels.
The 1.5 degree limit was agreed in 2015 in the Paris Agreement at the twenty-first UN Climate Summit, COP21. All subsequent climate summits have focused on developing actions to achieve this goal.
The Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, told the BBC that some countries are so far struggling to achieve the goal of a 1.5 degree temperature rise, and we are now heading towards 2.5 to 3 degrees instead of 1.5 degrees.
In addition to all the official negotiations, there will be hundreds of events over the two weeks with exhibitions, workshops and cultural performances, from youth, business groups, Indigenous communities, academia, artists and fashion communities from around the world.
Protests, which are usually a vibrant feature of climate conferences, are likely to be quelled.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has been in power since 2014, has overseen a large-scale crackdown on the opposition. Rights groups estimate that the country holds as many as 60,000 political prisoners, many of whom are held without trial.
Shoukry said that a space will be allocated in Sharm el-Sheikh to organize the protests. Despite this, Egyptian activists told the BBC that many local groups were unable to register for the conference.