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Watch: Al Gore at UN climate summit gives world leaders an ultimatum: ‘Choose life over death’

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore urged dozens of leaders on Monday to cooperate on the issue of climate change giving world leaders an ultimatum, “Choose life over death” he said, “it is not time for moral cowardice”.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore speaks during the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. Photo courtesy of Bloomberg

Leaders of poorer climate-struck nations were also eager to have their say, pointing their fingers at richer countries saying the should be held accountable for their actions.

Most of the leaders who pleaded for action came from poor nations that caused little of the pollution but often get a larger share of the weather-related damage. Several called on developed nations for reparations, which in climate negotiations is called “loss and damage.” Many were from Africa and small island nations.

“Africa should not pay for crimes they have not committed,” Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera said, adding that rich nations were to blame for the climate problem.

“Climate change is directly threatening our people’s lives, health and future,” said Kenyan President William K. Ruto, speaking on behalf of the entire African continent, which he said is looking at $50 billion a year in climate change damage by 2050. He said his country is choosing not to use many of its “dirty energy” resources, even though it could help the poor nation financially, and has instead opted for cleaner fuels.

Loss and damage “is our daily experience and the living nightmare of millions of Kenyans and hundreds of millions of Africans,” Ruto said.

Seychelles President Wavel John Charles Ramkalawan said, “Like other islands, our contribution in the destruction of the planet is minimal. Yet we suffer the most.” He called on wealthier countries to assist “in repairing the damage you caused to us.”

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for a massive overhaul of international development loans and a 10 percent tax on fossil fuel companies, which she said made “$200 billion in profits in the last three months.”

“I don’t need to repeat the horror and the devastation wrecked upon this Earth over the course of the last 12 months since we met in Glasgow,” Mottley said. “Whether the apocalyptic floods in Pakistan or the heat waves from Europe to China or indeed in the last few days in my own region, the devastation caused in Belize by Tropical Storm Lisa or the torrential floods a few days ago in St. Lucia.”

Ahead of this year’s conference, known as COP27, leaders and experts have been ringing alarm bells that time is fast running out to avert catastrophic rises in temperature. But the dire warnings may not have the effect they have had in past meetings because of multiple other challenges of the moment pulling leaders’ attention, from midterm elections in the U.S. to the Russia-Ukraine war.

“In the fight for life on Earth, no one is a bystander,” said Jordan’s King Abdullah. “Every contribution counts. COP27 has brought us together to link forces and stand our ground. We are at the beginning of a long, challenging and urgent transformation.”

More than 100 world leaders will speak over the next few days at the gathering in Egypt, most from developing countries demanding greater accountability from the richest, most polluting nations. Much of their focus will be on telling their stories of being devastated by climate disasters, including a speech Tuesday by Prime Minister Muhammad Sharif of Pakistan, where summer floods caused at least $40 billion in damage and displaced millions of people.

“Climate change will never stop without our intervention,” the summit’s host, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, told his fellow leaders. “Our time here is limited and we must use every second that we have.”

El-Sisi, who also called for an end to the Russia-Ukraine war, was gentle compared to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who preached with tones of fire and brimstone, alternating with pathos and tragedy, trying to shake up the world’s sense of urgency at this year’s annual U.N. climate conference.