World leaders seek tougher action on climate as Cop27 gathers pace

UN secretary general calls for global windfall taxes to help vulnerable nations

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the Cop27 climate summit that all governments should tax the 'windfall' profits of fossil fuel companies. Reuters
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Calls to tax profits made by major fossil fuel companies gathered steam on Tuesday as world leaders addressed the third day of Cop27, calling for tougher action to tackle the planet’s climate crisis.

The idea to tax oil and gas majors was first proposed at the summit in Egypt by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who called for a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies profiting from soaring energy prices, which would be used to help vulnerable nations.

In an attempt to ease concerns that the industrialised world was not listening to climate-vulnerable developing countries, US climate envoy John Kerry explained Washington's commitment to reducing its own gas emissions, saying democratic President Joe Biden will stick to his efforts even if Republicans win the midterm elections on Tuesday.

A Republican victory could be a boon to former president Donald Trump, who had pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Mr Biden brought the United States back into the pact. Former president Trump has strongly suggested that he intends to run for the White House in 2024.

Also on Tuesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged countries to hasten action on climate change.

“The global fossil fuel crisis must be a game changer. So let us not take the 'highway to hell' but let's earn the clean ticket to heaven,” she said, echoing remarks by Mr Guterres on Monday.

On Tuesday, small island nations suffering the worst effects of climate change said they wanted major international oil companies to pay for mounting damage from ocean storms and the rise of sea levels.

Leaders of developing nations sharply rebuked the West and took turns calling for the implementation of previous COP resolutions and for the industrialised world, which is responsible for most gas emissions, to come forward with funds to bankroll their adaptation efforts.

“The oil and gas industry continues to earn almost $3 billion in daily profits,” said Antigua's Prime Minister Gaston Browne, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States.

“It is about time that these companies are made to pay a global carbon tax on their profits as a source of funding for loss and damage,” he said.

“Profligate producers of fossil fuels have benefited from extortionate profits at the expense of human civilisation. While they are profiting, the planet is burning.”

Senegal's President Macky Sall told the conference that poor developing nations in Africa wanted increased funding for adaptation to worsening climate change.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe said: “Those most responsible for the climate crisis must listen and prioritise climate finance to help prevent disasters and help climate victims recover. Commitments we have made and continue to make can only make a difference when we act on them.”

Sri Lanka's president Ranil Wickremesinghe lambasted what he called the “double standards” employed by the world's chief polluters.

“Developed nations should be giving leadership to work on climate challenges rather than abdicating their responsibilities. It is no secret that climate financing has missed the target …. As many developed nations deem it fit to wait on their climate financing contributions, these countries were also on both sides of the Ukraine war and seemed to have no qualms spending for war,” he said.

Citing recent research, Cop27 President Sameh Shoukri told a news conference that while he was encouraged by the resolve to tackle climate change and impressed by energy of young people, half the world will be affected by climate change by 2030 — even if temperatures rise no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

A temperature rise no greater than 1.5 degree Celsius is what world leaders agreed to in Paris in 2015 as their objective, based on scientific consensus.

In contrast, the president of Ghana, Nana Addo, struck a hopeful note, saying Africa, with international help, could be key to the decarbonisation of the world. He cited the large swathes of arable land and a young and innovative population.

“No one wins if Africa loses,” he said.

Another hopeful note came from French President Emmanuel Macron, who flew back to Paris after he addressed the summit on Monday night.

The French leader is meeting on Tuesday with the heads of the country’s most climate-damaging industries to pressure them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The meeting at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris aims at accelerating the reduction of carbon emissions, a move that requires new technologies and investments worth billions of euros.

The industry represents about 20 per cent of France’s national greenhouse gas emissions.

On Monday, leaders at the two-week UN summit spoke of the need to agree on mechanisms for “loss and damage” funding, under which wealthy nations bankroll measures taken by the most vulnerable countries to mitigate the effects of climate change.

“Those who contributed least to the climate crisis are reaping the whirlwind sowed by others,” said Mr Guterres in an impassioned speech on Monday. “Many are blindsided by impacts for which they had no warning or means of preparation.

“This is why I am calling for universal early warning systems coverage within five years.

“And it is why I am asking that all governments tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies. Let’s redirect the money to people struggling with rising food and energy prices and to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis.”

In an early success, the summit agreed on Monday to add loss and damage to the agenda, a move that had eluded negotiators for years.

“On addressing loss and damage, this Cop must agree on a clear, time-bound road map reflective of the scale and urgency of the challenge,” the UN chief said. “This road map must deliver effective institutional arrangements for financing.”

Humanity, he said, was on “a motorway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”.

The idea of a windfall tax on carbon profits has gained traction in recent months amid sky-high earnings for major oil and gas companies as consumers struggle to pay the rising cost of heating homes and filling cars.

The summit’s first full day on Monday was defined by urgent calls by leaders to slash greenhouse gas emissions as the planet warms and severe weather events become more frequent and destructive.

Scores of presidents, along with thousands of diplomats, climate negotiators, business leaders, activists and journalists descended on the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh to take part in discussions and negotiations lasting until November 18.

Former US vice president Al Gore, one of the first leaders to raise the alarm about climate change, framed the question of whether to decarbonise as a “life over death” choice by leaders.

Nigeria’s environment minister Mohammed Abdullahi, along with many others, argued that the action needed to go beyond just cutting emissions. Rich nations most responsible for climate change must help poor nations hit hard by the impacts of climate change, he said.

“The blame game should stop,” he said.

He said his country would be “aggressive” during negotiations about financing and reparations for vulnerable countries.

Updated: November 09, 2022, 8:23 AM