The United Nation’s annual climate summit is under way in Dubai, with world leaders approving a climate disaster fund that will help vulnerable nations cope with the impact of drought, floods and rising seawater.
The agreement marked a “positive signal of momentum” at the start of the 2023 conference – known as COP28 – its host UAE’s Sultan al-Jaber said in the opening ceremony on Thursday.
Al-Jaber, who is the UAE’s minister of industry and also heads the national oil company, is chairing the summit for its 28th meeting. His leading role has drawn backlash from critics who believe his oil ties should disqualify him from the climate post.
In opening remarks, al-Jaber made the case that the world must “proactively engage” fossil fuel companies in phasing out emissions, pointing to progress by some national oil companies in adopting net-zero targets for 2050.
“I am grateful that they have stepped up to join this game-changing journey,” al-Jaber said in opening remarks. “But, I must say, it is not enough, and I know that they can do much more.”
The UN’s climate chief, Simon Stiell, gave a more stark assessment, saying there must be a “terminal decline” to the fossil fuel era if we want to stop “our own terminal decline”.
Who is attending?
With more than 70,000 attendees, the two-week-long affair is billed as the largest-ever climate gathering.
Among tts expected attendees are dozens of world leaders, including the heads of state of France, Japan, the UK, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Brazil. Also represented are crowds of activists, lobbyists, and business leaders, including billionaire Bill Gates.
However, the presidents of the world’s two biggest polluters — the US and China — are not attending.
The summit comes at a pivotal time, with global emissions still climbing and 2023 projected to be the hottest year on record. Scientists warn the world must commit to accelerating climate action or risk the worst impacts of a warming planet.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said leaders should aim for a complete “phaseout” of fossil fuels, a proposal opposed by some powerful nations that has dogged past negotiations.
What are the goals?
On Thursday, nations formally approved the launch of a “loss and damage” fund to compensate climate-vulnerable countries after a year of hard-fought negotiations over how it would work.
Later in the summit attendees are due to review and calibrate the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCC’s) terms, Paris Agreement, and Kyoto Protocol, a binding treaty agreed in 1997 for industrialised nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This year, UNFCC members will also face their first Global Stocktake (GST) – a scorecard analysing countries’ progress towards the Paris Agreement – so they can adapt their next climate action plans which are due in 2025.
At the same time, host UAE aims to marshal an agreement on the tripling of renewable energy and doubling the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.
Rallying a common position on these points will be challenging, as COP requires all nations – whether dependent on oil, sinking beneath rising seas or locked in geopolitical rivalry – to act unanimously.
Questions about the UAE’s role
The UAE sees itself as a bridge between the rich developed nations most responsible for historic emissions and the rest of the world, which has contributed less to global warming but suffers its worst consequences.
But the decision for it to host has attracted a firestorm of criticism, particularly as the man appointed to steer the talks, al-Jaber, is also head of UAE state oil giant ADNOC.
Al-Jaber, who also chairs a clean energy company, has defended his record, and strenuously denied this week that he used the COP presidency to pursue new fossil fuel deals after allegations reported by the BBC.
On Thursday, al-Jaber said the “role of fossil fuels” must be considered in any deal at the climate talks, saying “it is essential that no issue is left off the table”.