Cop28 opens with push to scale up ambitions, though fossil fuels issue signals difficult days ahead in Dubai

‘If we do not signal the terminal decline of the fossil fuel era as we know it we welcome our own terminal decline,’ warns UN climate chief

The UN global climate summit opened in Dubai on Thursday to resounding calls to accelerate climate action, curb fossil fuels and redirect resources for renewable energy backed by agreement on climate finance for vulnerable states.

In the aftermath of months of extreme heat across the planet, Cop28 president Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber fully backed the most ambitious possible outcome of a “global stocktake” evaluating where the world stands on cutting emissions, while striving to contain temperature rise on Earth to 1.5 degrees.

His role is to act as an “honest broker” for the 190-plus governments gathering at the climate talks in attempting to fashion a deal, though it has become embroiled in controversy as he is also chief executive of UAE’s state oil company Adnoc.

In a strong address at the opening ceremony he pleaded with heads of delegations and negotiators to participate with “a different mindset and to adopt a different mode of thinking and be flexible”, adding that he, every country and every company would be held to account. He underlined he would be “guided by the north star of keeping 1.5 degrees within reach”.


Mr al-Jaber insisted the Cop should engage with fossil fuel companies as “they have collectively the power to do something”.

He acknowledged there were “strong views about the idea of including language on fossil fuels and renewables in the negotiated text...I ask you to work together”.

“Let history reflect the fact that this is the presidency that made a bold choice to proactively engage with oil and gas companies,” he said. “We had many hard discussions. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy,” Mr al-Jaber said on pre-Cop28 talks with fossil fuel interests.

He noted many national oil companies had adopted net-zero targets for methane by 2030 and for net zero emissions by 2050. “I am grateful that they have stepped up to join this game-changing journey. But, I must say, it is not enough, and I know that they can do more.”

Led by the UN and the EU, desperate efforts are being make to ensure Cop28 delivers climate mitigation and adaptation measures matching the goal of keeping to within 1.5 degrees, though this limit is likely to be breached based on current policies and commitments by 2030. Their key opening position is seeking commitment to triple renewables and double energy efficiency, as well as “committing to phase out fossil fuels, with a clear timeframe aligned to the 1.5 degree limit”.

“If we do not signal the terminal decline of the fossil fuel era as we know it we welcome our own terminal decline. And we choose to pay with people’s lives,” UN Climate Change executive secretary Simon Stiell said at the opening plenary.

The global stocktake required under the Paris Agreement presented two options to countries, he said. “Firstly – we can note the lack of progress, tweaking our current best practices and encourage ourselves to do more ‘at some other point in time’. Or we decide at what point we will have made everyone on the planet safe and resilient.”

The latter meant funding the transition properly, including loss and damage funds for poorer climate-vulnerable countries, “and we decide to commit to a new energy system”.

“With science indicating the world has around six years before exhausting the planet’s ability to cope with our emissions, before we blow through the 1.5 degree limit. It’s simply not good enough for us to be ‘trying to try’. As Yoda would say: ‘Do or not do. There is no try’.”

It may be the biggest Cop yet, he said – “but attending a Cop does not tick the climate box for the year. The badges around your necks make you responsible for delivering climate action here and at home.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times