COP28: As ‘humanity’s fate hangs in the balance’, UN chief calls for urgent action to prevent planetary crash
Earth’s vital signs are failing and to prevent planetary crash and burn, “we need…cooperation and political will”, UN Secretary General António Guterres said on Friday, challenging world leaders gathered in Dubai for COP28 to show real global climate leadership.
The UN chief delivered his impassioned appeal at the high-level opening of the Global Climate Action Summit, which will see world leaders and Heads of State and Government taking centre stage for the next two days in the Al Waha Theatre in Dubai’s iconic Expo City.
Warning that “humanity’s fate is hanging in the balance”, the Secretary-General said world leaders must act now to end the climate catastrophe.
“This is a sickness only you, global leaders, can cure,” he said, calling on the leaders to end the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and to fulfill the long overdue promise for climate justice.
Mr. Guterres also welcomed the breakthrough achieved Thursday on the opening day of COP28 after delegates reached a deal on the operationalization a fund for loss and damage to help the world’s most vulnerable countries pay for the devastating impacts of climate disaster.
Buzz around the venue
Expo City, the venue for the climate talks, is buzzing with activity amid the tight security on the second day of COP28, as world’s leaders started arriving for the Action Summit.
Over the next two days, leaders from over 160 countries are expected to outline their vision for tackling the climate crisis, including from Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, Turkiye and India.
Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, is well-known for its extremely hot weather. While December is normally a relatively pleasant month, hundreds of reporters, photographers and civil society delegates have been jostling for space in Expo City’s shady spots to catch a break from the scorching sun.
Indigenous peoples are on the frontline of climate change impacts and their representatives are very active – and vocal – at COP28. Earlier on Friday UN News ran into Jacob Johns, who says he’s working to inform climate policy with indigenous knowledge.
“We are here to shift the hearts and minds of conference goers and the negotiating teams so that we live in solidarity with a healthy, livable future,” said Mr. Johns, who is Hopi and Akimel O’odham, and a member of the US-based Indigenous Wisdom Keepers delegation.
“We want to see real climate action... We want to see funding going into climate justice and the loss and damage fund. We want all these funds to be available to indigenous people who are suffering at the impending climate collapse, with land loss and extreme weather events,” he told us.
United in crisis
In his remarks to the Action Summit, the Secretary-General recalled to his recent trips to Antarctica and Nepal, pointing out how he witnessed first-hand the scale and extent of melting ice and glaciers.
“These two spots are far in distance, but united in crisis,” said Mr. Guterres.
He cautioned though that this is just one symptom of the sickness bringing our climate to its knees.
Painting a worrisome picture of ongoing climate chaos, the UN chief said global heating is busting budgets, ballooning food prices, upending energy markets, and feeding a cost-of-living crisis.
“We are miles from the goals of the Paris Agreement – and minutes to midnight for the 1.5-degree limit.”
No more time to lose
Mr. Guterres emphasized that the success of the Dubai conference will depends on the outcome of the so-named ‘Global Stocktake’ – where countries will for the first time assess progress on curbing global warming – which can get the world on track to achieve the temperature, finance, and adaptation goals.
He underscored that the stocktake must prescribe a credible cure for our ailing planet in three key areas.
First, a drastic cut in emissions since current policies are leading us to an earth-scorching three-degree temperature rise.
“I urge countries to speed up their net zero timelines, to get there as close as possible to 2040 in developed countries and 2050 in emerging economies.”
Second, acceleration towards a just, equitable transition to renewables, since a burning planet cannot be saved with a firehose of fossil fuels.
“The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate. Phase out – with a clear timeframe aligned with 1.5 degrees.”
- Third, fulfillment of the long overdue promise of climate justice in an unequal and divided world – a surge in finance, including for adaptation and loss and damage.
He urged developed countries to double adaptation finance to $40 billion a year by 2025 and provide details on how they plan to deliver on the $100 billion promise for financial support for developing countries.
“As a citizen of a small Island developing State myself, I am acutely aware that on our current trajectory those islands and the wealth of culture and history they represent are at peril of imminent disappearance,” said Dennis Francis, President of the UN General Assembly, who is from Trinidad and Tobago, threatened by fast-advancing sea level rise.
“A three-degree world is not science fiction but the path we are on,” he said, referring to the fact that if current trends continue the world may be facing a temperature increase of three degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era, instead of the 1.5-degree target set in Paris.
He focused on the need for “a just transition to sustainable energy systems” and for “more accessible, more available” financing for climate adaptation.
Recalling that all countries are dealing with unique crises in their national contexts, Assembly President Francis urged delegations to draw on those experiences in your discussions at COP28.
“I urge you to propose integrated and action-oriented solutions, that will guide other participants – to help them to re-imagine local, national, and regional policies and policy frameworks that anticipate risks, prioritize investments, and enable adaptive climate mobility; while embracing a people-first strategy.”
The opening ceremony of the World Climate Action Summit also saw the representation of the indigenous communities whose survival is threatened by climate change.
Isabel Prestes da Fonseca is the co-founder and environmental director of Instituto Zág, an indigenous youth-led organisation whose key activity is the reforestation and preservation of traditional knowledge around the Araucaria tree, known as Zág.
“I stand here today, representing indigenous voices and the urgent need to address environmental crises. Join us in this fight for nature and biodiversity. Together, we can be the change,” she said.
Another ‘turning point’
King Charles III recalled the time that he was invited to speak at the opening of the landmark COP21 in Paris eight years ago, “where nations put differences aside for common good”. “I pray with all my heart that COP28 will be another turning point,” he said.
He deplored the fact that progress towards climate goals has fallen off track, as the global stocktake shows, and asked, “How dangerous are we actually prepared to make our world?”
“Dealing with this is a job for us all,” he insisted in his address to the Summit on behalf of the United Kingdom.
King Charles went on to cite the impact of climate change globally, including devastating floods in India and Pakistan and severe wildfires in the United States, Canada and Greece.
“Unless we rapidly repair and restore nature's unique economy, based on harmony and balance, which is our ultimate sustainer, our own economy and survivability will be imperiled,” he said.