By SETH BORENSTEIN
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — With the world on “a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,’’ the United Nations chief, on Monday, told dozens of leaders to “cooperate or perish,” singling out the two biggest polluting countries, China and the United States.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wasn’t alone in preaching with tones of fire and brimstone to try to shake up the world’s sense of urgency at this year’s annual UN climate conference.
“Choose life over death,” former US Vice President Al Gore urged. “It is not time for moral cowardice.”
Some of the strongest pleas for action came from leaders of poor nations that caused little of the pollution but often get a larger share of the weather-related damage. Several called on developed nations for reparations, which in climate negotiations is called “loss and damage.”
“Africa should not pay for crimes they have not committed,” Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera said, adding that rich nations were to blame for the climate problem.
“Climate change is directly threatening our people’s lives, health and future,” Kenyan President William K. Ruto said of the African continent, which he said is looking at $50 billion a year in climate change damage, by 2050. Ruto said Kenya is choosing to not use many of its “dirty energy” resources even though it could help the poor nation financially, 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 in the destruction of the planet is minimal. Yet we suffer the most.” He called on wealthier countries to assist in repairing the damage.
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for a massive overhaul of international development loans and a 10% tax on fossil fuel companies, which she said made “$200 billion in profits in the last three months.”
“I don’t need to repeat the horror and the devastation wrecked upon this Earth over the course of the last 12 months since we met in Glasgow,” Mottley said. “Whether the apocalyptic floods in Pakistan or the heat waves from Europe to China or indeed in the last few days in my own region, the devastation caused in Belize by Tropical Storm Lisa or the torrential floods, a few days ago, in St. Lucia.”