The past eight years were on track to be the warmest on record, the World Meteorological Organisation said in its latest report, in a planetary “distress signal”, as leaders began to gather for the COP27 climate summit in Egypt.
The findings were published during the opening session in Sharm el-Sheikh, where the contentious issue of “loss and damage” was put on the formal agenda for the first time.
“Loss and damage” has become the shorthand for the call for funding by wealthy countries for poor countries suffering the consequences of climate change. The matter has grown more urgent this year, marked by a succession of extreme weather events including widespread flooding in Pakistan and Nigeria most recently.
The WMO’s state of the climate annual report said the global average temperature in 2022 was around 1.15C higher than pre-industrial levels. The Paris climate accord committed countries to limit warming to 1.5C ideally.
“As COP27 gets under way, our planet is sending a distress signal,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres, describing the report as a “chronicle of climate chaos.”
“Change is happening with catastrophic speed — devastating lives and livelihoods on every continent,” he said.
More than 110 heads of state and government will convene on Monday to discuss energy security, green technology, how to cut emissions more quickly and protect nature and how best to support the most vulnerable.
The UK on Sunday formally handed over the COP presidency to Egypt, with the agenda for the summit negotiations approved only following a tense 48 hours of final wrangling. More than 50,000 representatives of government, agencies, civil society and media are expected to attend.
Despite deciding at the last minute to travel to Egypt, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak urged other countries to “deliver” on the pledges made at COP26 in Glasgow, in a weekend speech. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and contemptible manipulation of energy prices has only reinforced the importance of ending our dependence on fossil fuels,” he said.
Incoming Egyptian COP president Sameh Shoukry welcomed the inclusion of loss and damage on the agenda, and the euphemistically described “change” in the position of certain countries ready to grapple with it.
At COP26, wealthy countries, including the US and the EU bloc, pushed back on a proposal by vulnerable nations to create a new loss and damage finance facility. Their resistance is based on concerns that concessions might be viewed as compensation for the historic greenhouse gas emissions generated by their industrialisation.
Recently appointed head of the UNFCCC climate change oversight body, Simon Stiell, from Grenada, said countries now needed to decide the extent to which “politics” would influence the “progress that we need to make.”
Warning shots were contained in the WMO report. The “tell-tale signs and impacts of climate change are becoming more dramatic”, it concluded.
The rate of sea level rise had doubled since 1993, and the past two and a half years alone accounted for 10 per cent of the total rise in sea levels since satellite measurements began nearly 30 years ago, it said.
This year has also been marked by record-breaking glacier melting in the European Alps, while the Greenland ice sheet also shrank, the report found.
Sea level rise is a particular threat to small island nations, such as the Bahamas and Barbados. In their opening remarks, the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) said the loss and damage agenda item was “the floor of what is acceptable; it is our bare minimum.”
The group wants a new Loss and Damage Response Fund to be created at COP27 that is operational “by 2024.”
“We are not asking for favours,” Aosis said in a statement. “We will not be silent victims to the cost of pollution created by others, for the profit of the few.”
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