The UN's COP27 climate summit kicked off Sunday in Egypt with warnings against backsliding on efforts to cut emissions and calls for rich nations to compensate poor countries after a year of extreme weather disasters.
An alarming UN report said the past eight years are on track to be the eight warmest on record, with an acceleration in sea level rise, glacier melt, heatwaves and other climate indicators.
"As COP27 gets underway, our planet is sending a distress signal," UN chief Antonio Guterres said in a statement, calling the report a "chronicle of climate chaos".
Just in the past few months, floods devastated Pakistan and Nigeria, droughts worsened in Africa and the United States, cyclones whipped the Caribbean, and unprecedented heatwaves seared three continents.
The conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh also comes against the backdrop of Russia's war on Ukraine, an energy crunch, soaring inflation and the lingering effects from the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Simon Stiell, the UN's climate change executive secretary, said he would not be a "custodian of backsliding" on the goal of slashing greenhouse emissions 45 percent by 2030 to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above late 19th-century levels.
"We will be holding people to account, be they presidents, prime ministers, CEOs," Stiell said as the 13-day summit opened.
"The heart of implementation is everybody everywhere in the world every single day doing everything they possibly can to address the climate crisis," he said, noting that only 29 of 194 nations have presented improved plans as called for at COP26 in Glasgow last year.
Current trends would see carbon pollution increase 10 percent by the end of the decade and the Earth's surface heat up 2.8C, according to findings unveiled last week.
Promises made under the 2015 Paris Agreement would, if kept, only shave off a few tenths of a degree.
Britain's Alok Sharma, who handed the COP presidency to Egypt, said that while world leaders have faced "competing priorities" this year, "inaction is myopic and can only defer climate catastrophe."
"How many more wake-up calls does the world -- and world leaders -- actually need?" he said.
- 'Loss and damage' -
The COP27 summit will focus like never before on money -- a major sticking point that has soured relations between countries that got rich burning fossil fuels and the poorer ones suffering from the worst consequences of climate change.
The United States and the European Union -- fearful of creating an open-ended reparations framework -- have dragged their feet and challenged the need for a separate funding stream.
After two days of intense pre-summit negotiations, delegates agreed on Sunday to put the "loss and damage" issue on the COP27 agenda, a first step towards what are sure to be difficult discussions.
Stiell said inclusion of loss and damage on the agenda after three decades of debate on the issue showed progress.
"The fact that it is there as a substantive agenda item I believe bodes well," he told reporters.
COP27 president Sameh Shoukry of Egypt said it would be unproductive to speculate on what outcome the negotiations will lead to, "but certainly everybody is hopeful."
"Anything that we do effectively has to be on the basis of our common efforts and that we leave no one behind," he said.
Shoukry also noted that rich nations have not fulfilled a separate pledge to deliver $100 billion per year to help developing countries green their economies and build resilience against future climate change.
He lamented that most climate financing is based on loans.
"We do not have the luxury to continue this way. We have to change our approaches to this existential threat," he said.
- US-China tensions -
After the first day of talks, some 110 world leaders will join the summit on Monday and Tuesday.
The most conspicuous no-show will be China's Xi Jinping, whose leadership was renewed last month at a Communist Party Congress.
US President Joe Biden has said he will come, but only after legislative elections on Tuesday that could see either or both houses of Congress fall into the hands of Republicans hostile to international action on climate change.
Cooperation between the United States and China -- the world's two largest economies and carbon polluters -- has been crucial to rare breakthroughs in the nearly 30-year saga of UN climate talks, including the 2015 Paris Agreement.
But Sino-US relations have sunk to a 40-year low after a visit to Taiwan by House leader Nancy Pelosi and a US ban on the sale of high-level chip technology to China, leaving the outcome of COP27 in doubt.
A meeting between Xi and Biden at the G20 summit in Bali days before the UN climate meeting ends, if it happens, could be decisive.
One bright spot at COP27 will be the arrival of Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose campaign vowed to protect the Amazon and reverse the extractive policies of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro.