Cop28 world leaders urged to agree ‘phase out’ of fossil fuels

UN secretary general addresses conference, saying humanity living through ‘climate collapse in real time’

UN secretary general António Guterres has called for world leaders gathered at the Cop28 climate talks in Dubai to agree to complete the “phase out” of fossil fuels.

“We are living through climate collapse in real time,” he told Cop28 delegates in a video message at the launch of the World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) stark state of the climate report, which confirms 2023 is set to be the hottest year ever recorded.

The summit opened with repeated calls for scaled up action in response to an overheating planet and related weather extremes that caused widespread “destruction and despair” this year, according to the WMO report.

There was an early breakthrough as almost 200 countries agreed to activate a global fund to help the most climate-vulnerable countries, while Cop28 hosts UAE said it wanted “the most ambitious outcome possible” from a global stocktake of progress.


In a surprisingly frank opening address on failed efforts to decarbonise the world, Cop28 president Sultan Al Jaber said his “guiding north star” was science, including the case for keeping global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees.

In his agenda-setting speech, he said nations needed to promise to make deeper cuts to their carbon emissions and work together to triple renewable power capacity and double energy efficiency.

Sultan Al Jaber said some of the biggest oil and gas companies were poised to commit to reducing methane emissions to zero by 2030 – methane has 28 times the heating potential of CO₂ – and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

But his promise of cash for developing countries was even more striking. He committed the UAE “would unlock finance to ensure the global south does not have to choose between development and climate action”. That has been estimated to require hundreds of billions of dollars.

Despite the host’s upbeat commitments and calls for far greater ambition than shown in recent Cops, it is already clear difficult negotiations on fossil fuels lie ahead.

Sultan Al Jaber, who is chief executive of the UAE’s state oil company, Adnoc, urged governments to engage proactively with fossil fuel interests on the basis that they “have the power to do something”.

The breakthrough was achieved when almost 200 countries present agreed details for running a fund designed to help vulnerable states deal with more extreme weather exacerbated by global warming.

Delegates adopted a framework for the World Bank to at least temporarily operate the so-called loss and damage fund. With expected announcements of financial contributions in coming days, including from the Irish Government, it could start disbursing money early next year.

“Agreement to proceed with the loss and damage fund is an important step to help the countries which are suffering most from climate change, but which have the greatest difficulty getting access to the finance and resources they need to manage it,” said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Why is an oil CEO leading the UN's climate talks?

Listen | 22:34

The Republic has already committed to €225 million a year from 2025 to climate finance and this weekend he would announce the State’s specific contribution to the new fund, he added.

The opening day was notable for negotiators and delegation leaders delivering sober warnings about the consequences of inaction and current scientific indications.

“It is clear we are not on track,” said Germany’s climate envoy Jennifer Morgan at a briefing. She said the world faces “unimaginable” temperature rise and consequences “if we don’t accelerate and scale up our action”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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