DUBAI, DECEMBER 1
International climate talks turned to a power game on Friday as dozens of world leaders including the Saudi crown prince and India’s prime minister were to speak, but two of the world’s most powerful men – President Joe Biden of the U.S. and China’s President Xi Jinping – were glaringly absent.
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, a top oil producer, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, whose biggest cities are regularly choked under poor air, were among more than 130 world leaders set to address the United Nations climate conference in Dubai over the next two days. The idea is to try to keep the planet from heating too much because of humankind’s actions.
In a fire-and-brimstone kicking off of Friday’s parade of VIPs, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, fresh from melting glaciers in Antarctica and Nepal said “Earth’s vital signs are failing” and told leaders, “you can prevent planetary crash and burn.”
He referred to inequality and conflicts, mentioning the return of bombing in Gaza Friday.
“Climate chaos is fanning the flames of injustice,” Guterres said. “Global heating is busting budgets, ballooning food prices, upending energy markets, and feeding a cost-of-living crisis. Climate action can flip the switch.”
Guterres, a long-time critic of oil, gas and coal use that is causing climate change, fired his strongest shots yet against the industry, which includes host country United Arab Emirates, saying, “we cannot save a burning planet with a firehose of fossil fuels.”
In a direct contradiction to fossil fuel-aligned nations and even the presidency of the talks, he said the only way to limit warming to the goal set in 2015 requires eliminating oil, coal and gas use, saying “not reduce, not abate, phase out.”
But the leaders of the two biggest carbon-polluting nations – responsible for more than 44% of the world’s emissions – aren’t there to get the in-person message.
Xi and Biden are sitting out this COP, just weeks after announcing a bilateral agreement to help cut down on methane emissions. Their deputies, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and China’s First Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang, will be attending instead.
Left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, home to the most of the world’s biggest natural carbon-capture zone on land, the Amazon rainforest, is also set to attend. He was treated like a rock star a year earlier – after his ousting of conservative rival Jair Bolsonaro.
Many of the leaders speaking represent countries hard hit by floods, storms, drought and heat waves worsened by climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Those include the islands nations of Palau and the Maldives as well as leaders of Pakistan and Libya, which have been devastated by recent floods that killed thousands.
Against the backdrop of tensions pitting his country against Hamas militants in Gaza, President Isaac Herzog of Israel – whose post is more ceremonial – will be rubbing elbows with some of the biggest power players in the Middle East.
On Thursday, just moments after the opening of the two-week COP28 climate conference in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, nations rallied together to formally create a “loss and damage” fund that will help compensate countries – especially developing ones – for the impacts of floods, droughts and heat waves.