UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for the "phase-out" of fossil fuels at the start of COP28 in Dubai. Guterres has anticipated what is arguably the most contentious point of the climate summit: the inclusion in the final agreement of an explicit reference to the need to move away from coal, oil and gas production.
More than 70,000 delegates from 197 countries converge on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday, amid renewed criticism of the host country for its double standards on climate change. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, president of COP28 and the oil company Adnoc, has had to defend himself from the outset and describe as "false" the BBC's revelations about his alleged plans to reach oil and gas agreements with at least 15 countries during the summit.
Al Jaber predicted that "unprecedented results" will be achieved in Dubai to keep the target of a maximum temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. The sultan, who also heads the state-owned renewable energy company Masdar, guaranteed that COP28 will set "a strong roadmap" to cut emissions by 2030 and assured that he had the support of major oil producers such as Saudi Arabia.
Al Jaber wanted to mark the beginning of the summit with a first agreement for the financing of the loss and damage fund created at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh. The text was ready early on Thursday, awaiting the arrival of world leaders and with the first list of countries willing to provide aid funds to vulnerable countries, led by Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. The UAE could lead the way for Arab countries and the EU has called on China to come up with the odds.
The announcement on the funding fund will set the agenda at Friday's conclave of world leaders. King Charles III will give the inaugural address. Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will not, however, be in Dubai. Nor will Pope Francis, recovering from the flu, go to the end. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will also speak on Friday.
António Guterres opened fire in any case with his call for the "phase-out" of fossil fuels in the COP28 agreement, knowing that a final standoff will be waged comparable to that of COP26 in Glasgow when coal was first mentioned. "It would be a shame if in the end we were to remain in a vague reference to reduction," the meaning of which would not be obvious to anyone, the UN secretary-general warned.
The proposal was already on the table at COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, promoted by the European Union and backed by more than 80 countries, but was withdrawn in the end so as not to sacrifice the consensus reached for the creation of the loss and damage fund and save the summit "in extremis".
A year later, and almost three decades after the first COP in Berlin in 1995, all 197 countries seem ready to take the step forward. The EU's proposal for the summit in fact calls for "the global phase-out of fossil fuels without mitigation measures" and with the peak point of consumption in this decade, in line with the 1.5 degree target and with the transition "to a climate-neutral economy".
Guterres also expressed confidence in setting "a reasonable timetable" in Dubai, with a commitment to reach peak fossil fuel consumption and emissions as soon as possible. "We also need to triple the capacity of renewables, double energy efficiency and guarantee clean energy for all by 2030," stressed the UN Secretary-General, when anticipating other points that aspire to be incorporated into the final agreement.