Egypt's El Sisi opens Cop27 climate summit with plea for flexibility

Nearly 50 heads of state and prime ministers will address the summit in Sharm El Sheikh on Monday

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The high-level segment of the two-week UN climate summit opened in Egypt on Monday, with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi urging participants to be flexible in negotiations to agree that can save the planet from rising temperatures.

“The time has arrived, the time to work. There's no room for retreat or excuses. Missing the opportunity means the loss of our legacy and the future of our children and grandchildren,” said the Egyptian leader.

“This is a defining moment in the life of our planet.”

Mr El Sisi's warning came as recent scientific findings showed that current trends would mean carbon pollution increasing by 10 per cent by the end of the decade, and the Earth's surface heating up by 2.8 degrees.

The Egyptian president was the first to take to the podium as world leaders gathered to share their vision on how to save the planet. He was followed by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and President Sheikh Mohamed.

Nearly 50 heads of state and prime ministers are scheduled to address the summit, also known as Cop27, at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh on Monday.

"What the world needs today to pull through the current climate crisis," said Mr El Sisi.

"What our people are expecting now is effective, fast and just implementation, they expect from us real and tangible measures to reduce emissions and build a capability to adjust to the consequences of climate change.”

In his address, Mr El Sisi also made a passionate plea to world leaders to work towards ending the Russia-Ukraine war. He said the conflict has caused economic hardship to his country as well as many others.

“I call on behalf of myself and you, if you will allow me, for that war to stop; for this ruin and killing to stop.”

Mr Guterres delivered a stern warning on climate change, in keeping with his stepped-up rhetoric on the issue.

“Our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible,” he said. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator. It is unacceptable, outrageous and self-defeating to put it on the back burner.

"The science is clear: any hope of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees means achieving global net zero emissions by 2050. But that 1.5 degree goal is on life support and the machines are rattling. We are getting dangerously close to the point of no return," he said.

Sheikh Mohamed, whose country hosts Cop28 next year, said climate change had an impact on the stability and security of the world and called for efforts to be united to confront the challenge.

He said the UAE would continue to produce and export oil and gas to meet world demand. The carbon intensity of the country's oil was among the world's lowest, he said, and pledged to continue to work to reduce gas emissions in the UAE's large energy sector.

US President Joe Biden will address the two-week summit later this week.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, whose country was devastated by floods this summer, will speak on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has arrived in Sharm El Sheikh and was expected to address the meeting on Tuesday.

Downing Street said Mr Sunak will announce in Sharm El Sheikh that his government will give £65.5 million to a clean energy innovation facility that provides grants to researchers and scientists in developing nations who work on clean technologies.

Another £90m will go to the conservation of the Congo Basin rainforest and £65m to support communities.

Mr Sunak met Sheikh Mohamed on the sidelines of the summit on Monday.

UN climate change executive secretary Simon Stiell during a press conference at the summit in Egypt. AFP

Simon Stiell, the UN climate change executive secretary, said 110 leaders had confirmed their participation in the two-week summit. They join nearly 27,000 government representatives, about 14,000 observers and more than 3,000 media representatives, he added.

“We always want more leaders,” said Mr Stiell, alluding to earlier forecasts that as many as 200 leaders would attend. “But I believe there is sufficient (leadership) right now for us to have a very productive outcome.”

He said the summit’s Egyptian presidency had created a “very rich and innovative series of sessions” for the leaders to take part in, including round table discussions.

However, the leaders of some of the world’s main carbon emitters — China and India — decided to stay away.

Mr Stiell sought to play down the significance of their absence.

“We have a sufficient number,” he said.

This year's climate summit is being held under the cloud of a geopolitical crisis — chiefly the Russia-Ukraine war and growing rivalry between the US and China — and deepening economic woes in most parts of the world because of higher energy and food costs.

Underscoring the danger of politicising the summit, Egyptian Foreign Minister and Cop27 president Sameh Shoukry spoke on Sunday against allowing the world's crises to interfere with the summit's proceedings.

However, Cop27 got off to a flying start on Sunday, when Mr Shoukry said the thorny question of “loss and damage” funding has been formally added to the agenda, something that had proved elusive for 30 years.

Cop27 president Sameh Shoukry during a press conference after the opening ceremony in Sharm El Sheikh. AFP

The question was initially brought up by small island states to help them deal with the devastating effects of climate change, but it was shut down by wealthier nations.

Climate funding so far has focused on cutting carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to curb climate change, while about a third of it has gone towards projects to help communities adapt to the effects.

“It’s a culmination of consultations during the past year and intense consultations over the past 48 hours,” Mr Shoukry told reporters at a news conference on Sunday. “It is a very fundamental issue that must be dealt with.”

There is no agreement yet over what should count as “loss and damage” in climate disasters. Mr Shoukry refused to be drawn into what mechanisms would be put in place to implement loss and damage and how much money would be needed.

A June report by 55 vulnerable countries estimated their combined climate-linked losses over the past two decades at about $525 billion, or about 20 per cent of their collective GDP.

A delegate from Lesotho on the first day of the UN climate summit in 
Egypt. Getty Images.

The introduction of loss and damage to the agenda will be of particular interest to Africa, which Egypt has selected to champion its climate change-related demands from the industrialised world.

Africa is responsible for only 3 to 4 per cent of global emissions, despite having only 17 per cent of the world’s population.

“We aim to restore the 'grand bargain' … whereby developing countries agreed to increase their efforts to tackle a crisis for which they are far less responsible, in return for appropriate financial support and other means of implementation,” Mr Shoukry wrote in a letter to parties and observers at the summit.

Egypt is not without its significant financial needs to mitigate and combat climate change.

In an updated submission to the UN this year, Egypt said it faced a $246bn funding shortfall to meet its 2030 climate targets.

Updated: November 07, 2022, 4:52 PM