UN Chief warns the fight for a liveable planet will be won or lost in this decade

World leaders are urging rich countries to stay the course in stopping further climate change despite global financial issues and the war in Ukraine.

At the opening of the COP27 climate summit on Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told leaders from 120 countries: “It is the defining issue of our age. It is the central challenge of our century. It is unacceptable, outrageous and self-defeating to put it on the back burner.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses world leaders at this year’s climate conference (UNFCCC/COP27)

Guterres urged developed and developing nations to unite in their shared mission to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.

“We are on a highway to climate hell. Humanity has a choice. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact – or a Collective Suicide Pact.”

What is COP27?

COP27 is the 27th annual United Nations meeting on climate. It is taking place in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, until 18th November.

COP stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. The parties are the countries that signed the UN climate agreement in 1992.

Every country is treaty-bound to “avoid dangerous climate change” and find ways to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year’s conference gave reason for hope, with several key pledges relating to finance and renewable energy agreed upon.

However, a UN report found that efforts to deliver on these pledges had been “woefully inadequate”.

Money talks

The key issue for many countries is finance.

After missing 2020’s goal of providing $100bn for the cause, developed countries are under increased pressure to deliver by 2023.

A year of climate chaos

Guterres’ words come after a year of record-breaking temperatures and natural disasters.

Wildfire rages in Bordeaux region of southwest France. July 2022 (SDIS 33/Associated Press)

Extreme weather saw the developing world suffering severe climate-related crises, from flooding in Pakistan to drought in East Africa and parts of China.

Wildfires broke out in parts of Europe, Australia and the Americas, devastating the natural landscape and forcing thousands to flee their homes.

These events are driven by a rise in global temperatures, which are linked to emissions produced by humans from burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal.

Without intervention, events like these are likely to become more frequent and more intense.

The Paris Agreement

Global temperatures have risen 1.1C and are heading towards 1.5C, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

If temperatures rise 1.8C above 1850s levels, the IPCC warns that half the world’s population could be exposed to life-threatening heat and humidity.

To combat this, countries signed the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015.

What is the UK doing?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the conference it is “morally right” that Britain honours its COP26 commitments.

He said: “I believe we found room for hope in Glasgow. With one last chance to create a plan that would limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, we made the promises to keep that goal within reach.”

“By directing public and private finance towards the protection of our planet, we can turn our struggle against climate change into a global mission for new jobs and clean growth.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addresses delegates at COP27 (Reuters)

Mr Sunak’s words were met with approval from the assembly and environmental activists at home, but sceptics noted that the speech was scarce on detail on how these pledges would be financed.

The UK’s commitment to the cause has been questioned after reports it failed to deliver more than $300 million promised to two key funds.

The Prime Minister’s own motivations are under scrutiny too after he initially declared he would not be attending the conference, only to U-turn days later following an inevitable backlash.

Environment Activism in Luton

Air pollution is a particularly sore subject in Luton, as the local branch of Extinction Rebellion fiercely oppose plans for airport expansion in a town with the worst air quality for any of those of a similar size in the UK.

The group staged a peaceful protest against private jet flights at the Harrods Aviation Terminal on Thursday.

Activists protest private jet flights at Luton Airport. (Image c/o Extinction Rebellion St Albans)

Luton Airport declined to comment.

Luton Council has developed a roadmap to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

What Can I Do?

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of such uncertainty, but small changes add up and really do make a difference.

Here are some simple steps you can take today to lead a greener lifestyle.