Global leaders are gathered at a United Nations conference in Egypt to discuss climate change and a transition away from fossil fuels, even as energy prices soar worldwide.
Disruptions from lockdown policies across the globe and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have led to constrained energy supplies, particularly in developing countries and the European continent. During a Monday speech to diplomats and world leaders assembled at COP27, however, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urged the world’s large and small economies to reconsider their “addiction” to fossil fuels.
“Today’s crises cannot be an excuse for backsliding or greenwashing. If anything, they are a reason for greater urgency, stronger action and effective accountability,” he remarked. “Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”
Guterres called on member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to phase out the use of coal by 2030, to be followed by all other nations by 2040, and asserted that the United States and China “have a particular responsibility” to adopt such goals. “It is either a climate solidarity pact, or a collective suicide pact,” he added.
China, however, recently switched to burning more coal as droughts disrupt hydropower generation capacity, while Germany, the largest economy in Europe, has likewise reverted to consuming the fuel as the natural gas supply remains tight.
“The war in Ukraine, other conflicts, have caused so much bloodshed and violence and have had dramatic impacts all over the world,” Guterres continued. “But we cannot accept that our attention is not focused on climate change. We must of course work together to support peace efforts and end the tremendous suffering, but climate change is on a different timeline, and a different scale.”
European nations, many of which heavily regulate fossil fuel production to combat climate change, were forced to scramble for new power supplies after Russia severed natural gas shipments and the Nord Stream pipeline system sustained unprecedented damage from an unknown actor. Russia accounted for 40% of the European natural gas supply last year, a rate that had dropped to 9% as of three months ago, while Germany has seen dependence on Russian natural gas decrease from 55% to 35%.
Meanwhile, nations in Africa, Asia, and South America are witnessing soaring energy prices, which have reduced agricultural production as farmers struggle to afford fuel and fertilizer. Protesters in Sri Lanka forced members of their government to resign and flee abroad in response to unsustainable inflation, while activists in Panama have leveraged the economic chaos to promote socialism.
Guterres called on attendees to tax the “windfall profits of fossil fuel companies” which have benefited from the rise in energy prices, suggesting that the funds could be redirected toward “people struggling with rising food and energy prices and to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis.” Ministers in the European Union have introduced similar proposals to redistribute fossil fuel profits to pay for residents’ power bills.