COP28 climate summit kicks off in Dubai with disaster fund breakthrough

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, President-Designate of COP28, arrives at the venue before the opening ceremony of COP28 Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday. Photo by Ali Haider/EPA-EFE
Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, President-Designate of COP28, arrives at the venue before the opening ceremony of COP28 Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday. Photo by Ali Haider/EPA-EFE

Nov. 30 (UPI) -- The 28th United Nations climate summit, known as COP28, kicked off in Dubai on Thursday with an early breakthrough on a key agenda item: the establishment of a disaster fund for poor countries hit hardest by climate disasters such as flooding, droughts and extreme heat.

COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber hailed the agreement as "the first time a decision has been adopted on day one of any COP" and announced that host country the United Arab Emirates would contribute $100 million to the fund.


Several other countries announced commitments, including Germany, which also pledged $100 million.

Dr. Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the fund a "significant step forward in the fight for climate justice."

"Low- and middle-income nations are suffering from billions of dollars of damage and an immense human toll from increasingly severe climate impacts," she said in a statement. "There's simply no time to wait."


The urgent need for climate action across a range of areas will be a theme at the two-week COP28, which expects to welcome more than 70,000 visitors from nearly 200 nations.

The event -- officially the Conference of Parties -- comes at the end of a year that saw scorching heat waves and extreme weather from flooding to wildfires around the globe.

On Thursday, the United Nations released its latest global climate report, which concluded that 2023 was "virtually certain" to be the warmest year in the 174-year observational record.

The U.N. World Meteorological Organization said in its provisional assessment that global temperatures rose 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

"We are living through climate collapse in real time and the impact is devastating," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video statement accompanying the launch of the report on COP28's first day.

"This year we have seen communities around the world pounded by fires, floods and searing temperatures," he said. "Record global heat should send shivers down the spines of world leaders."

Guterres called on countries to "triple renewables, double energy efficiency... and phase out fossil fuels."

The future of fossil fuels looms as one of the key debates in COP28 discussions, with participants such as the European Union expected to push for a full phaseout, while others -- including the United Arab Emirates, one of the world's largest oil producers -- have called for a more gradual "phase down."


The controversy around an oil giant hosting the climate meeting was intensified this week when documents leaked to the Center for Climate Reporting and the BBC suggested that COP28 president Al Jaber planned to use the summit to lobby for oil and gas deals with foreign government officials.

Al Jaber, who is head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, denied the allegations on Wednesday, calling them "false, not true, incorrect and not accurate."

In his opening remarks after formally accepting the COP28 presidency Thursday, Al Jaber stressed an ambitious but pragmatic approach that included the fossil fuel industry, saying that it is "essential that no issue is left off the table."

"We must look for ways [to] ensure the inclusion of the role of fossil fuel," Al Jaber said.

"I ask you all to work together," he said. "Be flexible. Find common ground. Come forward with solutions and achieve consensus."

Another key item for this year's COP28 will be the first ever "global stocktake," a scorecard for countries and other stakeholders to measure progress toward the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and preferably below 1.5 degrees.


The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

High-profile attendees at COP28, which runs through Dec. 12, include Britain's King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as well as the leaders of France, Germany, Japan, Brazil, India and the European Union.

The United States will be represented by Vice President Kamala Harris and special climate envoy John Kerry.

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