Global warming already is causing suffering and conflict in Africa, from drought in Sudan and Somalia to flooding in South Africa, President Jacob Zuma said on Monday, urging delegates at an international climate conference to look beyond national interests for solutions.

“For most people in the developing countries and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death,” said the South African leader as he formally opened a two-week conference with participants from more than 190 nations.

The conference is seeking ways to curb ever-rising emissions of climate-changing pollution, which scientists said last week have reached record levels of concentration in the atmosphere.

Mr. Zuma said Sudan’s drought is partly responsible for tribal wars there, and that drought and famine have driven people from their homes in Somalia. Floods along the South African coast have cost people their homes and jobs, he said.

“Change and solutions are always possible. In these talks, states, parties, will need to look behind their national interests to find a solution for the common good and human benefit,” he said.

U.N. climate official Christiana Figueres said future commitments by industrial countries to slash greenhouse gas emissions is “the defining issue of this conference.” But she said that is linked to pledges that developing countries must make to join the fight against climate change.

She quoted anti-apartheid legend Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

The conference ends on December 9, 2011.