07 November 2022

Leaders meet for Cop27 amid geopolitical tension and worsening climate crisis

07 November 2022

World leaders are attending the latest UN climate talks in Egypt amid geopolitical tensions and pressure over who will pay for the damage caused by global warming.

The Prime Minister said the world must “deliver on the legacy” of last year’s Cop26 summit in Glasgow, with Downing Street pledging more than £200 million in UK funding to protect forests and invest in green technologies.

But as he passed on the baton to the Egyptians, he faced criticism at home over the Government’s decision to issue more licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and its continued opposition to new onshore wind.

The past eight years are on track to be the hottest on record, with sea level rise accelerating, the melting of Europe’s Alpine glaciers shattering records, and devastating floods, drought and heatwaves hitting in 2022.

In a packed day at the conference, the Prime Minister was holding a series of bilateral meetings, including with Italy’s new far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen amid ongoing tensions over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

He was competing on the world stage with Boris Johnson, one of his predecessors in No 10 and an enduring rival in the Tory Party, who told a conference fringe event the fight against climate change had become a “collateral victim” of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After wrangling between delegations, the issue of funding for loss and damage from climate change, such as destruction of crops, buildings and infrastructure in poorer countries, is now an item on the official agenda for the talks.

Mr Sunak, attending Cop27 after what opponents called a “screeching U-turn” having planned to stay home to work on domestic financial issues, will use his speech to the conference to call for a “global mission for clean growth”.

Mr Sunak’s attendance at the gathering in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh alongside leaders such as US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, marks his first outing on the international stage since becoming Prime Minister last month.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps said Mr Sunak was able to attend because of the “vast amount” of work that has been completed on the budget.

In his opening address on Monday, Mr Sunak will say it is essential countries stick to commitments made at the Cop26 summit hosted by the UK in Glasgow, if it is to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

At the same time, he will argue that the transition away from fossil fuels has the potential to drive growth and deliver jobs in the new green industries of the future, while cutting off funding for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Ahead of his speech, he called for the world to “deliver on the legacy” of Cop26, for the sake of people’s children and grandchildren.

As well as speaking on climate change at Cop27, Mr Sunak has met Ms von der Leyen for a one-on-one meeting amid ongoing tensions with the bloc over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Ukraine war and the energy crisis are also likely to feature in the two leaders’ talks. Mr Sunak will also speak to other leaders in a packed schedule.

The UK is set to triple funding for adaption programmes to £1.5 billion in 2025, he will say.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, travelling to Egypt with the PM, was due to announce investments worth more than £100 million to help developing countries to respond to climate-related disasters and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is also at the talks, said there is an obligation on richer countries that have largely caused climate change to help those suffering the impact of it.

She told the BBC: “We’ve got to mitigate climate change, we’ve got to help countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, but as we’ve seen over the past year, not least in Pakistan, there are many parts of the world that are suffering loss and damage now that is irreversible and can’t be mitigated against.

“There is an obligation in the spirit of solidarity for the richer countries that have largely caused climate change to now make a big effort to help those dealing with the impacts address that.”

Addressing the cost of loss and damage is a key demand for some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, who are on the frontline of climate impact and yet have done least to cause the crisis, though developed countries have historically been reluctant to discuss it.

In a statement as the summit kicked off, the Alliance of Small Island States called for a new loss and damage response fund that is operational by 2024, as well as for emissions to peak and decline immediately and reform of the financial system away from fossil fuels.

The group of nations, whose very existence is threatened by the rising seas and increasingly stormy weather caused by climate change, said the fossil fuel industry had been raking in three billion US dollars a day for 30 years.

“It is still cheaper, and faster, to get money to destroy the planet than to save it,” they said.

The UK’s climate negotiating lead, Alok Sharma, who presided over the Cop26 talks, has said the Government is supportive of discussions about loss and damage payments at the climate talks, and called for further and faster action on tackling global warming emissions.

But the British Government is facing criticism at home for pushing ahead with new North Sea oil and gas licences, opposing onshore wind in England, and falling behind on policies to cut emissions in line with legal targets.

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