“Humanity Has a Choice”: A Roundup of Some of the Best Speeches at COP27

Global leaders urge cooperation to avert the worst impacts of climate change

By Paige Curtis and Tatum McConnell

November 13, 2022

Mia Mottley

Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, speaks at the COP27 UN Climate Summit on Tuesday, November 8, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. | Photo by Peter Dejong/AP Photo

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference is underway and has already led to unprecedented conversations among leaders and delegations.

At the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, some attendees remain frustrated by the level of censorship enacted by government authorities. Human Rights Watch and key news websites are blocked under local broadband providers, and privacy concerns around the COP27 conference mobile app may put climate activists at risk. As youth activist Alexandria Villaseñor says, “There is no climate action without truth and information.”

Eager to move beyond vague commitments and lofty pledges, nations in the Global South are pushing for the Global North to pay their fair share for contributing to climate change. For the first time in the history of COP, a coalition of 77 developing nations succeeded in placing climate "losses and damages" on the conference agenda. European nations like Scotland, Denmark, and Germany pledged varying amounts of financial support for countries struggling with climate effects as the world awaits action from the United States. But like at COP26, fossil fuel industry proponents are well-represented: The number of COP delegates with links to fossil fuels jumped by 25 percent from the last conference.

This year’s COP occurs at a time when global energy crises are exacerbated by war, extreme weather events continue to devastate coastal communities, and exceedingly close political elections illustrate just how much is at stake in a warming world. But UN secretary-general António Guterres and others spoke of a way forward. "Humanity has a choice: Cooperate or perish.”

Here are some of the most compelling COP27 speeches with urgent messages for action.

Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados 

In a moving opening speech, Prime Minister Mottley emphasized the injustice countries in the Global South face—an injustice that will only intensify with climate change. “The world still looks too much like it did when it was part of an imperialist empire,” Mottley said. She urged businesses, the oil and gas industry, and wealthy countries to commit to loss and damage funding, money for developing countries that have contributed little to climate change but face some of the worst impacts.

Leah Namugerwa, Climate Activist 

Leah Namugerwa, a 17-year-old climate activist from Uganda, delivered a powerful message to world leaders at COP27. She emphasized the injustice young people face inheriting a climate-change-damaged Earth. “Let the African COP be an action COP,” she said. “Politicians: When you stand up to talk, my generation requests that you speak like there is an emergency.”

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General 

Secretary-General Guterres plainly stated the dangers of climate change: “We are on the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.” He urged action, advocating for a climate pact that would unite developed and emerging countries to reduce emissions and address climate justice through loss and damage funding.

Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan 

Prime Minister Sharif spoke about the humanitarian disaster in Pakistan after climate-change-fueled floods killed over a thousand people and left 20.6 million in need of aid this year. He admonished countries in the Global North for failing to follow through on climate financing promised at previous COP meetings. “This all happened despite our very low carbon footprints, and yet we became a victim of something with which we had nothing to do … a man-made disaster,” Sharif said.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine 

President Zelenskyy spoke about the environmental crises caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine: a global energy shortage that has led some countries to revert to coal, 5 million acres of forest destroyed by shelling in Ukraine, a food shortage in countries already suffering from climate change, and the risk of a nuclear power disaster. “There can be no effective climate policy without peace on the Earth,” he said.

Al Gore 

Al Gore diagnosed a credibility problem with the leaders at COP27 as actions to address climate change fail to meet the known urgency. Global dependence on fossil fuels represents a “culture of death,” he said, that will make large portions of Earth uninhabitable by the end of the century and create up to 1 billion climate migrants. Gore advocated for transforming global finance systems to accelerate a renewable energy transition.

COP27 Protesters 

Global climate action isn’t just about the people inside the COP27 room. Protesters spoke outside COP27 about the injustice of imperialist destruction of the environment and cultures. They wore gags to symbolize the human rights and climate justice advocates who have been killed, imprisoned, and persecuted. “We stand with all human rights and environmental defenders. We cannot forget these many, many, many, many silenced voices,” one speaker said.