Cop28: World leaders meet to attempt closure of emissions gap amid worsening climate crisis

Fossil fuel allegations dismissed by hosts as UAE insists ‘unprecedented outcome’ still achievable

With indications Earth has entered uncharted territory due to record warming, more than 150 global leaders gathered at Cop28 in Dubai will attempt to close large gaps in implementing the Paris Agreement.

The two-week UN summit opening on Thursday will seek agreement on stepping up carbon emissions cuts, ramping up renewable energy and securing a multibillion climate finance package to help limit the impacts of the climate crisis on the most vulnerable countries.

But already it has become embroiled in controversy amid claims that the hosts UAE — one of the world’s largest petrostates — were planning to use the event to lever oil and gas business.

This has been vehemently denied by Cop28 president Sultan Al Jaber, who told the Guardian an “unprecedented outcome” that would keep alive hopes of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees was within reach. Recent scientific reports indicate that critical target is slipping rapidly out of reach as temperatures soar and emissions continue to rise.


“The 2023 summit is one of the most important in years because it will see what progress has been made to meet the targets agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said.

Speaking from Dubai, Mr Varadkar said: “We’ve had a year of record-breaking temperatures and alarming severe weather events, including some on our own shores, which have had disastrous consequences for the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people around the world. This is a crucial opportunity.”

A “global stocktake” will assess what the world has actually achieved since the Paris pact, he said, and would show “we must work harder and faster to secure a safe, healthy, prosperous environment for all”.

A better system of climate finance was necessary, he said. “Sadly, countries suffering most from climate change often have the greatest difficulty getting access to the finance and resources they need to deal with it.”

On the fossil fuel issue which has bedevilled recent Cops, Mr Varadkar said: “At a time when the world is divided in so many ways, the urgent need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and bring down our emissions, is one challenge that unites us all.”

The Taoiseach will make the Republic’s national statement to Cop28 on Saturday, “setting out our commitment to vulnerable countries experiencing the greatest impact of climate change”.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said he was going to Cop28 with two key priorities: to ensure the written decision from the stocktaking “includes a mechanism for greater investment in clean energy in developing countries; and a plan for fossil fuel industries to pay their fair share into the world’s climate financing pot”.

He will be a leading member of the EU negotiating team urging a commitment to tripling renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency by 2030,” he said. “In addition, there needs to be a concerted and doubling energy efficiency by 2030. “However, this will not be enough... there needs to be a concerted move to phase out fossil fuels and eliminate the wasteful release of fossil fuel methane.”

Speaking at a Stop Climate Chaos protest outside Dáil Eireann, Jerry MacEvilly of Friends of the Earth said almost 30 years of Cops had almost completely ignored fossil fuels; “the elephant in the room”.

“The science is clear. The window to prevent climate breakdown is closing and we don’t have time to waste; states must be clear that the only way to tackle the climate crisis is to urgently end our addiction to dirty, expensive gas, coal and oil,” he said

The Government and EU must respond by demanding a commitment to a fast and fair global phase-out of fossil fuel production and consumption, combined with an end to further investment and subsidies, he added.

People Before Profit climate and environment spokesman, Paul Murphy called for Ireland to push for a elimination of fossil fuels. “The number one cause of the climate crisis is the continued use of fossil fuels which are responsible for three-quarters of historic emissions. The world is currently on track for a catastrophic 2.9 degrees of global heating. We cannot hope to avoid this unless fossil fuels are completely eliminated,” he said. “Yet at Cop28 Ireland and the EU are planning to call only for the phase out of so-called “unabated” fossil fuels. That means relying on unproven and experimental “carbon capture and storage” technologies - whose main purpose is really to perpetuate reliance on fossil fuels - and profits for fossil fuel companies,” he added.

Ireland should be taking the lead by becoming the first western state to announce support for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and “complete elimination of fossil fuels”, Mr Murphy said.

Trócaire’s head of policy and advocacy Siobhan Curran said: “Richer countries are responsible for the vast majority of excess emissions globally and despite having historically emitted the most, have failed to do the heavy lifting to protect the planet. It is part of our responsibility to rapidly reduce emissions and provide financing to the Global South, for loss and damage in poorer countries experiencing climate breakdown.

“We are at a critical juncture on Loss and Damage after decades of delay on this issue. Cop28 offers an opportunity to embed climate justice into the fund and for richer countries to take responsibility for their part in causing the climate crisis.”

Global leaders must make progress on increasing levels of climate financing, as well as delivering on existing funding commitments, and ensuring funds reach the world’s poorest countries which are severely impacted by climate change, Concern Worldwide warned.

“The devastating impact which climate change is currently having on some of the world’s most vulnerable countries means there needs to be an urgency about the scale of climate finance commitments made at Cop28 and a clear pathway as to how they will be delivered,” said Concern’s head of global advocacy Réiseal Ní Chéilleachair said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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