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UN climate summit begins with warning 'the planet is in distress'

President William Ruto holds bilateral talks with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame on the sidelines of COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. [Hiram Omondi, PCS]

The UN’s climate change summit has opened in Egypt with a warning that our planet is “sending a distress signal”.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was responding to a UN report released yesterday, saying the past eight years were on track to be the warmest on record.

More than 120 world leaders are due to arrive at the summit known as COP27, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

This will kick off two weeks of negotiations between countries on climate action.

COP27 president, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, urged leaders to not let food and energy crises related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine get in the way of action on climate change.

“It is inherent in us all in Sharm el-Sheikh to demonstrate our recognition of the magnitude of the challenges we face and our steadfast resolve to overcome it.”

The need for action was laid bare in the latest report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization.

Mr Guterres sent a video message to the conference in which he called the State of the Global Climate Report 2022 a “chronicle of climate chaos”.

In it, scientists estimate that global temperatures have now risen by 1.15C since pre-industrial times and said the latest eight years were on track to be the warmest on record.

The report also warned of the other wide-ranging impacts of climate change, including the acceleration of sea level rise, record glacier mass losses and record-breaking heatwaves.

Mr Guterres said that in light of these findings, COP27 must be the place for urgent and credible climate action.

COP27 will begin in earnest on Monday with a World Leaders’ Summit, when heads of state and government leaders deliver five-minute addresses outlining what they want from the meeting.

President William Ruto left the country yesterday for Egypt.

State House Spokesman Hussein Mohammed said Ruto, the chairperson of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change, will deliver Africa’s statement on climate change at the convention.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to urge world leaders to move “further and faster” in transitioning to renewable energy.

He will also tell leaders not to “backslide” on commitments made at last year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow.

World leaders will speak on Monday and Tuesday, and once they depart, conference delegates get down to the business of negotiation.

Developing nations - which are at the forefront of climate change - are demanding that previous commitments to finance are upheld.

But they also want there to be a discussion on “loss and damage” finance - money to help them cope with the losses they are already facing from climate change rather than just to prepare for future impacts. Following intense negotiations, the issue is on the official agenda of COP27.

As well as all the formal negotiations there will be hundreds of events over the two weeks with exhibitions, workshops and cultural performances from youth, business groups, indigenous societies, academia, artists and fashion communities from all over the world.

Protests - which are normally a vibrant feature of COP summits - are likely to be subdued.

Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, in power since 2014, has overseen a widespread crackdown on dissent. Rights groups estimate the country has had as many as 60,000 political prisoners, many detained without trial.

Shoukry said that space would be set aside in Sharm el-Sheikh for protests to take place. However, Egyptian activists told the BBC that many local groups had been unable to register for the conference.

Ruto is expected to speak on the adverse effects of drought and food insecurity in Africa.

“President Ruto is expected to rally countries towards the implementation and honouring of commitments that have been made in the past. How to deal with greenhouse gases emissions that cause global warming,” said Mohammed.

Ruto is expected to lobby for Kenya and Africa on the effects of climate change besides outlining the country’s policies and strategies towards tapping into the global carbon market.

The convention, which runs from November 6 to November 18, is being attended by delegates from 197 countries that are bound by the Paris Agreement.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya left the country earlier for the conference.

Ruto’s trip to Egypt will be his sixth abroad since being sworn into office on September 13. The president has visited Britain, United States of America, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania within his first month in office to boost bilateral ties.

The president joined over 200 world leaders during the funeral services of Queen Elizabeth II in the UK.

“We will miss the cordial ties she enjoyed with Kenya and may her memories continue to inspire us, we join the Commonwealth in mourning and offer our condolences to the Royal family and the United Kingdom during these difficult moments,” said Ruto.

He also attended the official opening session of the 77th United Nations General Assembly in New York City in the US, the first physical meeting after a two-year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The president visited Ethiopia where he held bilateral talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed with an intention of deepening the economic and strategic ties between the two countries.

During his inauguration, Ruto declared that his administration would play an active role in spearheading peace talks in the region, appointing former President Uhuru Kenyatta as his special envoy in the talks that were aimed at bringing peace to Tigray region of Ethiopia.

He visited Uganda where he attended the Independence Day celebrations and held bilateral talks with President Yoweri Museveni. During the visit, Ruto championed a borderless East African Community.

Ruto also toured Tanzania where he held talks with President Samia Suluhu on the importance of eliminating barriers that have hampered smooth trade between the two countries.

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