Friday was a day for speechmaking at the United Nations annual climate conference, known as COP28, as heads of state each gave short speeches to deliver their views on the planet’s climate crisis, what their nation is doing and what they think others should do.
It was also a day of sadness, as not far away in the Middle East, Israeli air strikes and ground fighting resumed in the Gaza Strip after a week-long truce in the Israel-Hamas war to exchange hostages and prisoners.
And it was a day for nations to announce deals or pledges aimed at demonstrating their commitments to take action to stem climate change.
Some take-aways from Friday’s events in Dubai:
World leaders focused on the scale and imminent threat of climate change and the drastic action needed to curtail global warming before it becomes an even worse catastrophe. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took aim at fossil fuels. That industry is in the spotlight at these talks. COP28 is hosted in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates and the conference president, Sultan al-Jaber, also heads Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.
Saving the planet from climate change and keeping warming within the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) means eliminating oil and gas use, Guterres said.
“Not reduce, not abate. Phase out,” Guterres said.
The sickness of climate change is something only the world’s leaders can cure, he said.
“We are miles from the goals of the Paris agreement and minutes to midnight for the 1.5 degree limit, but it is not too late,” the secretary-general said. “We can – you can – prevent planetary crash and burn.”
Other leaders said the countries had come together and recognized the threat greenhouse gases posed, but that far more was needed. And now.
Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said by 2030 his country would stop deforestation. Maintaining Brazil’s rainforests is vital for slowing climate change. He said there had been too many “eloquent and empty speeches.”
Speed, leaders agreed, is key.
Gaza looms large
As leaders highlighted the threat of melting glaciers and a hotter, more dangerous planet, the Israel-Hamas war hung over the proceedings, with a week-long ceasefire coming to an end earlier in the day. Several speakers voiced sympathy for Palestinians, connecting their suffering with the threat of climate change.
“Let’s be inclusive of the most vulnerable Palestinians severely impacted by the war,” Jordan’s King Abdullah said.
Guterres told other leaders that the consequences of climate change were dire and action was needed to prevent the environment from crashing, but also said, “Conflicts are causing immense suffering and intense emotion.”
Those comments came as the conflict’s week-long ceasefire ended. Israel resumed its strikes on Gaza, while militants there fired rockets into Israel. Jordan’s King Abdullah raised the plight of “vulnerable Palestinians” and an environmental group had handbills reading, “Cease-fire Now.”
Israel President Isaac Herzog didn’t give a speech at the summit, although he had been on the schedule. And Iran’s delegation left Friday’s proceedings to show its protest against the presence of Israeli officials, state-run IRNA news agency reported Friday.
Announcements and money
It was a day of pledged money and pronouncements of ambitious plans.
A group of 36 countries co-chaired by Germany and Chile aims to ambitiously tackle industrial emissions. It’s called the " Climate Club,” which first arose at a Group of Seven summit last year and has now formally launched. The aim is to achieve industrial growth while lowering the sector’s emissions.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the transition to a climate-neutral economy “will work only together, not against each other, and that is the fundamental idea behind this climate club” – even if countries are pursuing different paths. He said it includes many countries from the global south.
It doesn’t yet include big emitters such as China and India, but Scholz said many countries have an interest in joining.
Other announcements included financial commitments. Host country UAE announced a $30 billion fund aimed at expanding renewables in developing countries.
Vietnam launched its plan for how it’ll spend the $15.5 billion that rich nations have pledged to hasten its pivot away from fossil fuels as a part of the Just Energy Transition Partnership or JETP at the U.N. Climate Change conference in Dubai.
European Union president Ursula von der Leyen said that the plan would significantly boost Vietnam’s ability to get electricity from renewable sources – from a planned 36% of the total mix to 47%. That’s in line with Vietnam’s own federal energy plan which aims at getting nearly half of its electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind, along with hydropower by 2030.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged to end new construction at home of unabated coal fired power plants, in a show of clearer determination than in the past, toward achieving net-zero.