DUBAI: COP27 President Sameh Shoukry hands over the gavel to COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber during the opening ceremony of the COP28 United Nations climate summit on Nov 30, 2023. – AFP
DUBAI: COP27 President Sameh Shoukry hands over the gavel to COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber during the opening ceremony of the COP28 United Nations climate summit on Nov 30, 2023. – AFP
Fossil fuels in focus at COP28
Loss and damage fund launched * Gaza war looms over climate talks

DUBAI: Nearly 200 nations agreed Thursday to launch a fund to support countries hit by global warming, in a “historic” moment at the start of UN climate talks in the oil-rich UAE. The announcement came as the Emirati host of the COP28 talks declared that fossil fuels must be part of any climate deal negotiated over the next two weeks.

The talks in Dubai come at a pivotal moment for the planet, with emissions still rising and the UN on Thursday declaring 2023 on track to become the hottest year in human history. The formal establishment of the “loss and damage” fund long sought by climate-vulnerable nations provided an early win at COP28, where sharp divisions over the phasing out of fossil fuels were immediately apparent.

“We have delivered history today,” said COP28 president Sultan Al-Jaber as delegates embraced and cheered. Jaber said it was “the first time a decision has been adopted on day one of any COP and the speed in which we have done so is also unique, phenomenal and historic. “This is evidence that we can deliver. COP28 can and will deliver,” he said.

Leaders have been urged to move more quickly to a clean energy future and make deeper cuts to emissions, with the world off-track to keep global temperature rises below agreed levels. A central focus of COP28 will be a stocktake of the world’s limited progress on curbing global warming, which requires an official response at these talks.

Double the size of last year’s COP27, the conference is billed as the largest ever with 97,000 people, including Britain’s King Charles III and some 180 other heads of state and government expected to attend. The UN and hosts the UAE say the talks will be the most important since Paris in 2015, and climate finance for poorer nations has been a key agenda item.

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. The UAE announced $100 million toward the loss and damage fund with the European Union following with $246 million. More pledges are expected in coming days, but the amounts fall well short of the $100 billion developing nations say are needed.

“The progress we’ve made in establishing a loss and damage fund is hugely significant for climate justice, but an empty fund can’t help our people,” warned Madeleine Diouf Sarr, chair of the Group of the 46 Least Developed Countries. The 50-year-old Jaber is both COP president and head of UAE’s national oil giant, raising concerns over a conflict of interest amid calls for a phasedown of fossil fuels to be negotiated in Dubai.

In his opening address, Jaber told delegates they must “ensure the inclusion of the role of fossil fuels” in any final climate agreement and praised oil companies for coming to the table. “They can lead the way. And then leading the way will ensure that others follow and catch up,” he said.

But UN climate chief Simon Stiell told the meeting: “If we do not signal the terminal decline of the fossil fuel era as we know it, we welcome our own terminal decline.” And Pope Francis, who cancelled his trip to COP28 due to illness, urged participants to reject “the vested interests of certain countries or businesses”, in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Finding a common position on the future of fossil fuels will be difficult at COP where all nations — whether dependent on oil, sinking beneath rising seas or locked in geopolitical rivalry — must take decisions unanimously. The UAE hopes to marshal an agreement on the tripling of renewable energy and doubling the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.

Nations will navigate a range of thorny issues between Nov 30 and Dec 12, and experts say building trust could be a huge challenge. At the opening of the conference, delegates paused for a minute’s silence for civilians killed in the Gaza conflict. The deadly war also dominated the activist agenda, with chanting, keffiyeh-wearing climate justice defenders urging a ceasefire and an end to the Zionist entity’s 17-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. “We are here to express our solidarity with the Palestinians and call for a permanent ceasefire,” Lidy Nacpil, representing a coalition of 350 climate justice organizations, told a press conference on the sidelines of the COP gathering.

Zionist President Isaac Herzog, who was scheduled to arrive in the UAE on Thursday, plans to use his COP28 visit for a diplomatic push to release captives held by Hamas. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also expected to be at COP28 and will be in the same room as Herzog on Friday, as they are scheduled to give speeches just minutes apart. Some activists at the press conference, wearing keffiyehs, chanted “Free Palestine!” and other slogans. “It’s our duty as protectors of motherland and the mother earth, and also protectors of humans, to speak up publicly and demand a ceasefire and the end of the occupation,” said Rania Harrara of the MENA Feminist Taskforce.

Dozens of people also attended a separate gathering in support calling for an end to the war. “We see the same rich countries who say there is no money to help pay for the damage they caused to the climate, say they have no problem paying for bombs raining on innocent people,” said Asad Rehman, lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition.

The activists at COP28 included Tariq Luthun from Gaza, who is a member of the Climate Action Network. The 32-year-old based in the United States said 95 percent of his family is in the besieged Palestinian territory, including extended family members who have died in the latest fighting. “If we don’t take stances in moments that are so high urgency like this, we allow a precedent to be set where this kind of violence becomes normalized,” he said. – Agencies

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