Cop28: As climate crisis spirals, what on earth are world leaders waiting for?

As world leaders meet for the Cop28 climate conference, The Independent reports that the world has only a handful of years left to rein in emissions before we exhaust the planet’s ability to cope.

The two-week summit in Dubai opened to a “deafening cacophony of broken records”, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said on Thursday.

With King Charles set to use his opening address today to call for a “critical turning point towards genuine transformational action”:

  • UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned unprecedented global heat “should send shivers down the spines of world leaders”
  • Hosts UAE insisted no issue would be left off the table during talks
  • Latest projections showed there was just a 14 per cent chance of limiting warming to the 1.5C target
  • A landmark deal was finalised to support vulnerable nations already suffering irrevocable loss from the climate crisis
  • Rishi Sunak said he was “proud” of his record on tackling climate change – despite fierce criticism from UK campaigners over his net zero U-turns
  • US climate envoy John Kerry said Washington would target reductions of the potent but lesser-mentioned greenhouse gas, methane

The King is expected to tell leaders and climate delegates that the “hope of the world” rests on their decisions, and argue that, despite some progress, repeated warning signs of climate change are being ignored.

It is understood he will outline five key questions he hopes the summit will address, adding: “The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth.”

The summit began yesterday with the WMO’s announcement that 2023 will be the hottest year in recorded history, while sea level rise is also at a record high, extreme weather is spiralling, and Antarctic sea ice is disappearing at alarming rates.

“We are living through climate collapse in real time,” said Mr Guterres, calling for the spiralling crisis to be a “trigger” for world leaders to act.

Yet even in the face of a mountain of findings from the WMO, and dozens of other scientific bodies, progress has been far, far too slow; the UN Environment Programme has predicted that, rather than staying within the bounds of a somewhat safe 1.5C temperature rise, we are on track for a three-degree world this century.

“Science tells us we have around six years before we exhaust the planet’s ability to cope with our emissions,” Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said yesterday.

But instead of trending downwards, fossil fuel emissions rose 1.2 per cent in 2023. Oil companies made $200bn in 2022, and many more billions this year, helped along by government subsidies to the tune of $7 trillion in 2022.

Key absences

US president Joe Biden, Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin, leaders of the world’s biggest carbon-polluting nations, are all giving the summit a miss amid ongoing geopolitical tensions.

However, the US is sending its vice president, Kamala Harris, to make a brief visit. Mr Sunak and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi will be in Dubai.

John Kerry, US special presidential envoy for climate, at the Cop28 venue on Thursday


As he prepared to fly to Cop28, Mr Sunak, criticised for watering down net zero measures on cars and boilers and making a renewed push to drill for North Sea oil and gas, denied Britain had abandoned its flagship pledges.

“I’m not in hock to ideological zealots on this topic. Of course we’re going to get to net zero, of course it’s important, but we can do that in a sensible way that saves people money,” said the Tory leader.

Foreign secretary David Cameron is also in Dubai for several events; the government has faced criticism for all three men flying to the conference on separate private jets.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer prepared to meet financiers in Dubai to discuss his plans to “turbo-charge” growth by making London the world’s green finance capital.

‘No issue left off the table’

Getting a grip on the situation is one of “heavy responsibility”, the UN’s Simon Stiell remarked, particularly for the Emirati hosts.

Oil-dependent UAE is tasked with shepherding through a meaningful agreement in two weeks’ time, which vulnerable countries and their allies say must include a call to phase out all fossil fuels for the first time.

There was some early momentum yesterday when a fund to help the poorest and most impacted places cope with the irrevocable losses of climate change was finalised.

That deal was met with a standing ovation by delegates in the plenary hall, although experts warned that the fund must be closely monitored to ensure the most vulnerable can easily access it.

The announcement was accompanied by substantial financial pledges including  $100m (£79m) apiece from the UAE and Germany and $76m from the UK. The US pledged $17.5m.

Cop28 president Sultan al-Jaber at the opening session in Dubai on Thursday


While the sums were welcomed, it remains a drop in the ocean to tackle to scale of climate disasters – some estimates say vulnerable countries need $400bn annually to cover their losses.

The summit was convened by Sultan al-Jaber – a controversial choice because of his job as CEO of the UAE national oil company, Adnoc. And this was before the BBC and the investigative Centre for Climate Reporting revealed that the UAE planned to use its role as Cop28 host to strike oil and gas deals. (“The documents referred to in the BBC article are inaccurate and were not used by Cop28 in meetings. It is extremely disappointing to see the BBC use unverified documents in their reporting,” a summit spokesperson told The Independent.)

During his opening remarks, Jaber acknowledged there were “strong views” about the idea of including language on fossil fuels and renewables in the final Cop communique. “It is essential that no issue is left off the table. And yes, as I have been saying, we must look for ways and ensure the inclusion of the role of fossil fuels,” he said.

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