DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Countries once colonized by empires are striking back on global warming — and they have the pope’s blessing.
Leaders of developing nations jumped into Saturday’s high-level speeches at the U.N. climate summit to press rich industrial countries to share their knowhow to fight global warming and ease the financial burdens they face — while trumpeting their own natural resources that swallow heat-trapping carbon in the air.
The 28th annual U.N. Conference of the Parties, or COP28, in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, featured about 150 presidents, prime ministers, royals and other leaders who are presenting their plans to cut heat-trapping emissions and mostly seek unity with other nations to avert climate catastrophe that seemed to draw closer than ever in 2023.
Injecting moral authority into the talks, Pope Francis said “the destruction of the environment is an offense against God” in a letter read on his behalf because he had to cancel plans to attend because of a lung inflammation.
In the letter read by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Francis noted that almost all of the world that’s “needy” is “responsible for scarcely 10 percent of toxic emissions, while the gap between the opulent few and the masses of the poor has never been so abysmal.”
“The poor are the real victims of what is happening: we need think only of the plight of Indigenous peoples, deforestation, the tragedies of hunger, water and food insecurity, and forced migration,” the pope’s letter said.
Several African leaders noted their continent’s rainforests help gobble up excess carbon dioxide in the air and emphasized how their countries belch out only a tiny fraction of heat-trapping emissions compared to richer countries.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea — one of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil producers — faulted developed nations for failing to deliver on their pledges to meet their commitments on financing for climate action and meet their own targets to curb their industries’ emissions.
President Jose Ramos Horta of Timor-Leste, next to Indonesia and north of Australia, blasted “shark loans” from multilateral lending institutions, saying developing nations cannot recover from heavy debt burdens that squelch their ability to put money into fighting climate change and grow economically.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, the incoming head of a group of 20 climate-vulnerable nations, called for a change of attitude about access to long-term capital and put a challenge to the private sector: “We need new players at the table in terms of the insurance companies and in terms of the credit rating agencies and the bank regulators.”
Conference organizers were quick to highlight what they said were early accomplishments during the two-week gathering that opened on Thursday, though environmentalists cautioned against over-billed pledges and even some of the leaders acknowledged that upbeat words would need to translate into action after the meeting is over.
Adnan Amin, the CEO of the summit, said that a loss and damage fund that was formally launched on Day One had already reaped nearly $700 million and was still growing. Experts say countries need hundreds of billions to fully adapt to climate change.
Secretary-General Jagan Chapagain of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies expressed support for the fund — which is aimed mostly to help poorer countries respond to climate-related disasters — but said it was just a “first step,” and urged strong oversight to ensure the money will get to people in need.
“Availability of funds is one thing, but the flow of the funds is a different thing,” said Chapagain, noting that some money today aimed to help countries adapt to climate change doesn’t all get where it should. “Like adaptation funding: At the moment, only 10 percent of the adaptation funding actually reaches the local communities — only percent 10!”
“That’s the type of pitfalls we have to avoid in developing the existing mechanism for the loss and damage fund,” he said in an interview.
Also Saturday, 50 oil companies — representing nearly half of global production — pledged to reach near-zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in their operations by 2030. The companies also signed up to reach “net zero” for their operational emissions by 2050.
With U.S. President Joe Biden staying home, Kamala Harris became the first vice president to lead America’s delegation since Al Gore — now a major climate activist — at COP3 in 1997.
Harris said the United States is pledging $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries access capital to invest in clean energy and “nature-based solutions.” In a statement, the U.S. Treasury said the pledge is subject to funding availability.
Harris also said the U.S. was joining over 100 countries that have committed to double energy efficiency and triple renewable energy capacity by 2030, saying her country was on track to meet those goals because of investments like building 30 gigawatts of solar energy and laying thousands of miles of more efficient high voltage transmission lines.
“We understand the whole world will benefit from our work,” she said. “When the United States increases renewable energy production and innovation, it lowers the costs and boosts the efficiency of renewable energy technology around the globe.”
Earlier Saturday, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry joined French President Emmanuel Macron to push for development of nuclear energy, which doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions, even if it also presents security and waste challenges.
Overall, a group of more than 20 nations called for a tripling of nuclear energy generated in the world by 2050.
“I want here to reiterate the fact that nuclear energy is a clean energy and it should be repeated,” said Macron, whose country gets around two-thirds of its electricity from nuclear power, the most of any industrialized country, and exports some of it to France’s neighbors.
Kerry also announced that the U.S. was joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which means the administration commits to building no new coal plants and phasing out existing ones. It’s in line with other Biden regulatory actions and international commitments in the works that had meant no coal by 2035.
Whatever their perspective or national interest, leaders almost universally voiced their shared views that Earth is in crisis — with the United Nations and other environmental groups warning that the planet has recorded the nine hottest years on record over the last decade.
Bolivian Vice President David Choquehuanca called for “saving Mother Earth and staving off the multiple crises which have been caused by neocolonial, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchal, Western culture.”
“The climate crisis is but the latest chapter in a long history of hypocrisy and lies: The ‘Global North’ is responsible for the global imbalance that we’re seeing,” he said, using a catchall term for industrialized countries. “They seek permanent growth to the detriment of the global South.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said science shows that the world needs to “step up the pace” to battle climate change, but took a more upbeat tone, saying: “We have what it takes to meet these challenges. We have the technologies: wind power, photovoltaics, e-mobility, green hydrogen.”
Demand for fossil fuels has slowed and the peak is “in sight,” he said.
Associated Press journalists Will Weissert and Jon Gambrell contributed.