SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — World leaders called for tougher action to tackle global warming Tuesday, as this year’s international climate talks in Egypt heard growing calls for fossil fuel companies to help pay for damage they have caused to the planet.
UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on Monday that humanity is on “a highway to climate hell with our foot on the gas”, urging countries to “cooperate or perish”.
He and leaders such as Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said it was time to force fossil fuel companies to contribute funds that would provide vulnerable countries with financial assistance for their climate-related losses.
The idea of a windfall tax on carbon profits has gained traction in recent months amid soaring profits for oil and gas majors, even as consumers struggle to pay the costs of heating their homes and filling up their cars. For the first time, delegates at this year’s UN climate conference are set to discuss demands by developing countries that richer, more polluting countries pay reparations for the damage caused by climate change, which in climate negotiations is called ” loss and damage”.
US midterm elections hung in the balance on Tuesday, with many environmental campaigners worried that a Democratic defeat could make it harder for President Joe Biden to pursue his ambitious climate agenda.
Also hanging over the conference was the fate of one of Egypt’s most prominent jailed pro-democracy activists, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who has been imprisoned for most of the past decade. His family stepped up calls to world leaders to win his release after a long hunger strike intensified. Abdel-Fattah even stopped drinking water on Sunday, the first day of the conference, vowing that he is willing to die if he is not released, his family says.
Egypt’s long history of suppressing dissent has fueled controversy over hosting the annual conference, known as COP 27, with many international climate activists complaining that restrictions by the host are silencing civil society.
On Tuesday, more world leaders were to take the stage, including Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif of Pakistan, where summer floods have caused at least $40 billion in damage and displaced millions of people. After the speeches, conference delegates will delve into negotiations on a range of issues — including for the first time on compensation, known as loss and damage.
Some of the strongest calls for action so far have come from leaders of poor nations that cause little pollution but often receive a larger share of weather-related damage.
Nigeria’s Environment Minister Mohammed Abdullahi has called on rich nations to show “positive and positive” commitments to help countries worst affected by climate change. “Our priority is to be aggressive when it comes to climate finance to mitigate the challenges of loss and damage,” he said.
Leaders of the poorest nations, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, spoke of the issue as one of fairness and impartiality.
“Our part of the world has to choose between life and death,” said Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
“Africa should not pay for crimes it has not committed,” said Central African Republic President Faustin Arcange Twadera, adding that rich nations are to blame for the climate problem.
“Climate change directly threatens the lives, health and future of our people,” Kenyan President William K. Ruto said of the African continent, which he said was looking at $50 billion in climate change damage annually by in 2050. Ruto said Kenya is choosing not to use many of its “dirty energy” resources even though it could help the impoverished nation economically, and has instead opted for cleaner fuels.
Loss and damage “is our daily experience and the living nightmare of millions of Kenyans and hundreds of millions of Africans,” Ruto said.
Seychelles president Wavel John Charles Ramkalawan said: “Like other islands, our contribution to the destruction of the planet is minimal. And yet we suffer more.” He called on the wealthiest countries to help repair the damage.
Meanwhile, Egyptian activist Abdel-Fattah’s mother, Laila Soueif, called on world leaders, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, to pressure the Egyptian government to release him.
“The Egyptian authorities are your friends and proteges and not your adversaries. If Alaa dies you too will have blood on your hands,” he said in a video message on Facebook.
Sweif, a university professor, said she waited Monday outside the prison where Abdel-Fattah is being held for a letter, but received nothing. She planned to go to the jail on Tuesday, hoping for proof that her son is alive.
Abdel-Fattah’s younger sister, Sanaa Seif, is in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to make the case for her brother and other jailed activists. He is scheduled to speak about Egypt’s human rights record at an event alongside Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard.
Sunak said he raised the Abdel-Fattah case in his meeting Monday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. Sunak said he would continue to “press for progress” in the Abdel-Fattah case, according to Downing Street.
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