The UN’s COP27 climate summit kicked off on Sunday in Egypt with warnings against backsliding on efforts to cut emissions and calls for rich nations to compensate poor countries after a year of extreme weather disasters.  

An alarming UN report said the past eight years are on track to be the eighth warmest on record, with an acceleration in sea level rise, glacier melt, heatwaves and other climate indicators.

“As COP27 gets underway, our planet is sending a distress signal,” UN chief Antonio Guterres said.

Just in the past few months, floods devastated Pakistan and Nigeria, droughts worsened in Africa and the US, cyclones whipped the Caribbean, and unprecedented heatwaves seared three continents.

Bangladesh experienced a drastic decline in rainfall this year.

Simon Stiell, the UN’s climate change executive secretary, said he would not be a “custodian of backsliding” on the goal of slashing greenhouse emissions 45% by 2030 to cap global warming at 1.5°C above late 19th-century levels.

“We will be holding people to account, be they presidents, prime ministers, CEOs,” Stiell said as the 13-day summit opened.

“The heart of implementation is everybody everywhere in the world every single day doing everything they possibly can to address the climate crisis,” he said, noting that only 29 of 194 nations have presented improved plans as called for at COP26 in Glasgow last year.

Current trends would see carbon pollution increase 10% by the end of the decade and the Earth’s surface heat up 2.8C, according to findings unveiled last week.

Promises made under the 2015 Paris Agreement would, if kept, only shave off a few tenths of a degree.

Britain’s Alok Sharma, who handed the COP presidency to Egypt, said that while world leaders have faced “competing priorities” this year, “inaction is myopic and can only defer climate catastrophe.” 

“How many more wake-up calls does the world — and world leaders — actually need?” he said.

At COP26, high-income nations, including the US and the EU blocked a proposal for a loss and damage financing body, instead supporting a three-year dialogue for funding discussions.

‘Loss and damage’

The COP27 summit will focus like never before on money — a major sticking point that has soured relations between countries that got rich burning fossil fuels and the poorer ones suffering from the worst consequences of climate change.

The US and the EU — fearful of creating an open-ended reparations framework — have dragged their feet and challenged the need for a separate funding stream.

After two days of intense pre-summit negotiations, delegates agreed on Sunday to put the “loss and damage” issue on the COP27 agenda, a first step towards what are sure to be difficult discussions.

Stiell said the inclusion of loss and damage on the agenda after three decades of debate on the issue showed progress.

“The fact that it is there as a substantive agenda item I believe bodes well,” he told reporters. 

Bangladeshi-based environmental research body, the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCD), said it was “good news” loss and damage was officially on the agenda.

“Now the real work begins to make finance a reality,” said ICCCD Director  Saleemul Huq.

He also tweeted: “Excellent result in COP27 to get finance for Loss and Damage in the agenda. Well Done!” 

COP27 President Sameh Shoukry of Egypt said it would be unproductive to speculate on what outcome the negotiations will lead to, “but certainly everybody is hopeful.”

“Anything that we do effectively has to be on the basis of our common efforts and that we leave no one behind,” he said.

Shoukry also noted that rich nations have not fulfilled a separate pledge to deliver $100 billion per year to help developing countries green their economies and build resilience against future climate change.

He lamented that most climate financing is based on loans.

“We do not have the luxury to continue this way. We have to change our approaches to this existential threat,” he said.

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