After reaching eight billion earlier this week, the world population increased by 15 percent during the last 11 years. A century ago, the world population was assumed to be just two billion.
The fastest population growth, mostly dominated by the lowest-income countries, reached a milestone just in time when the world’s leaders were gathering under one roof.
It is within this perspective that Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, made a remark as he addressed world leaders convened for the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference at the beginning of last week.
“In just days, our planet’s population will cross a new threshold; the 8th billion members of our human family will be born. This milestone puts into perspective what this climate conference is all about,” he said in front of the over a hundred heads of state from all over the world.
He was alarming the leaders. “How do you respond when the newborn asks you what you did for our planet when you had the chance?” he asked. “This UN Climate Conference is a reminder that the answer is in our hands, and the clock is ticking.”
Under the theme “Together for Implementation,” this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27 (Conference of Parties), by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has been taking place for the last 13 days in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
Gathering since November 6, 2022, and beginning their meetings on the next day, about 112 heads of state and government, as well as delegates of governments and institutions, deliberated on the global climate agenda and committed to the implementation of what had been pledged in previous gatherings, which was the main reason behind the theme this time round.
In his opening remarks on November 7, 2022, Gutteres was firm while explaining how climate change is haunting the existence of humankind. He explained how humans are in the fight of their lives and how they are losing.
“Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing, global temperatures keep rising, and our planet is fast approaching a tipping point that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator,” he said.
A few minutes into the speech by the world’s highest position holder, the head of the United Nations, the 18-year-old Ugandan climate activist, Leah Namugerwa, took the stage to express her generation’s biggest concern.
Saluting and extending her greetings to the leaders and individuals who have done good to save the planet, she forwarded her messages to those perceived to be still denying the effect of climate change.
“I and many other young people are being forced to mature, act, and think like adults because we can’t stand by and watch our futures fade away. Individually, everyone has a role to play in saving our dear planet,” Namugerwa said.
Dubbed “an African COP,” even though it had previously been hosted four times in Africa, the COP27 was one with so much hope and big solutions coming to Africa. The continent contributes less than four percent of global carbon emissions but is affected the most.
Climate change is taking a heavy toll in Africa due to people’s increasing reliance on nature. About 95 percent of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa run their agriculture with rain-dependent methods.
As a result of the 2015 COP21 summit in Paris, France, the countries came up with a legally binding international treaty on climate change, dubbed the Paris Agreement. The 196 countries that adopted the agreement pledged to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This long-term plan with an immediate start to implementation was followed by another pact by developed countries to finance emerging economies, especially African countries, regarding climate change.
During the Copenhagen summit in 2009, the wealthiest countries pledged to finance poor countries by channeling USD 100 billion a year by 2020. But the UN report last year showed the countries had broken their promises, financing way less than the goal of USD 100 billion a year.
The highest was USD 83.3 billion, made during the end of the pledge year, 2020.
More promises, including doubling the funding, were made at last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. However, the promises failed to materialize, which initiated the theme for this year.
Calling for more pacts and keeping their promises, Gutteres spent no time blaming human activity as the cause of climate problems and said that humans should be the solutions themselves.
“We are getting dangerously close to the point of no return. Developed countries must take the lead,” he said. “I’m calling for a historic pact, a climate solidarity pact, between developed and developing economies: a pact in which all countries make extra effort to reduce emissions in line with the 1.5 degree goal; a pact in which wealthier countries and their financial institutions provide financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed their renewable energy transition.”
For him, the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, bear the greatest responsibility for joining forces to make such pacts a reality in order to meet the goals. “It is either a climate solidarity pact or a collective suicide pact,” he said.
The G20 countries met a few days after the COP27 had begun and while it was still running. In a communiqué the group released regarding the ongoing COP27 summit and the global climate issue, the member countries resolved to pursue efforts aimed at limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
A few other countries have also pledged to reduce their carbon footprints and eventually achieve carbon neutrality. Oil-producing countries such as the United Arab Emirates set 2050 as the deadline for carbon neutrality, while Kuwait set 2060.
Several EU member countries also came up with promises of funding under the “loss and damage” initiative. Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Austria, Denmark, and Belgium are the countries pledging to channel between two and 170 million EUR until the end of 2023.
The “loss and damage” funding initiative aimed to transfer funds from climate-damaging wealthier countries to less developed but affected countries. It was one of the main topics during this year’s COP27, but not much progress was shown on this matter.
On his official Twitter page, Gutteres wrote on November 17, 2022, how countries failed to come to an agreement. “Negotiators remain divided on a number of significant issues. I urge them to act quickly,” he wrote.
A day later, when the summit concluded, he stated that “fossil fuel addiction is hijacking humanity.” The secretary general did not fail to remind the audience that renewable energy is the only way out of “the climate hell highway.”
Young people and concerned citizens like Namugerwa also urged the world’s leaders to act now and leave a legacy for future generations. “Men in office, how are you going to be remembered? Do you wish to be remembered as one who did a lot of nothing while in power?” Namugerwa asked.
“Politicians, when you stand up to talk, my generation requests that you speak as if there is an emergency. Speak like you aren’t barren, act like you have an excess on earth because this is the only planet where we are going to carry on your legacy as your children,” she added.