Clashes over fossil fuels and conflict in Gaza overshadow COP28 climate change

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  • Leaders have very different hopes for fossil fuels
  • Britain’s King Charles III calls for climate progress
  • South Africa and Turkey criticize Gaza conflict

DUBAI, Dec 1 (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged world leaders to COP28 climate summit Friday to plan for a future without fossil fuels, saying there is no other way to curb global warming.

Speaking a day after COP28 President Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber proposed adopting the continued use of fossil fuels, Guterres said: “We can’t save a burning planet with a fire hose filled with fossil fuels.”

“The 1.5 degree limit is only possible if we finally stop burning all fossil fuels. No reduction. No reduction,” he said, referring to emerging technologies capture and store carbon emissions.

The competing visions sum up the difficulty of this year’s UN climate summit in the oil-producing United Arab Emirates, where divisions over fossil fuels, acrimony over late financing and geopolitical tensions around the war in Gaza threatened to prevent delegates from making progress.

King Charles III of Great Britain pleaded with world leaders advance the global climate agenda.

“Scientists have been warning for so long that we are seeing alarming tipping points being reached,” he said.

“Unless we quickly repair and restore the economy of nature, based on harmony and balance, which is our main support, our own economy and our capacity for survival will be in jeopardy,” said the king, who spent most of his adult life campaigning for the environment.

Charles’ comments seemed at odds with those of his government. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunakwhich announced 1.6 billion pounds ($2.02 billion) in climate funding, rolled back several domestic measures set by previous governments to help the country meet its net zero emissions targets for 2050.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared to chastise rich countries for their role in unleashing the emissions most responsible for global warming since the industrial revolution.

“We don’t have much time to correct the mistakes of the last century,” Modi said. “Over the past century, a small part of humanity has exploited nature indiscriminately. However, all of humanity is paying the price, especially people in the Global South.”

A former president of the Marshall Islands, whose country faces flooding from climate-driven sea level rise, resigned from the main COP28 advisory council on Friday to protest the United Arab Emirates’ support for the continued use of fossil fuels.

Hilda Heine said in her resignation letter that she was “deeply disappointed” that the United Arab Emirates would have been used its role during COP28 in the negotiation of oil and gas agreements. The United Arab Emirates has strongly denied the accusations.

The United Arab Emirates’ COP28 presidency said it was “extremely disappointed” by Heine’s resignation. “We have been completely clear, open and honest throughout this process,” the statement said.

ANGER AGAINST GAZA

Some world leaders took to the podium on Friday to criticize Israel’s bombing of Gaza, breaking a tacit agreement to avoid political intervention at UN climate summits.

Turkish President Tayyip Erodgan and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza during their speeches, while an Israeli official said the military respected international law and had the intention to destroy Hamas.

“South Africa is appalled by the cruel tragedy unfolding in Gaza. The war against the innocent people of Palestine is a war crime that must end now,” Ramaphosa said.

A group of protesters at the conference, some wearing shirts reading “ceasefire,” chanted “Free Palestine.” Elsewhere, a shoe display was meant to represent the thousands killed in Gaza.

OPTIONS FOR A COP28 AGREEMENT

Away from the main stage, delegations and technical committees set to work Friday on the mammoth task of evaluate their progress to meet global climate goals, particularly the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), above pre-industrial temperatures.

Scientists say that an increase in global temperature beyond this threshold will have catastrophic and irreversible consequences on a global scale.

The United Nations published on Friday a first draft which could serve as a model for a final agreement resulting from the COP28 summit, which ends on December 12.

The draft proposes “building blocks” for a policy outcome and includes several options for addressing the central issue of whether, and to what extent, fossil fuels should play a role in the future.

One option is to commit to either “phase down” or “phase out” the use of fossil fuels, abandon coal energy and triple renewable energy capacity by 2030.

Another question for debate is whether to phase out fossil fuel subsidieswhich totaled some $7 trillion globally last year, and whether to include provisions for carbon capture and suppression technology.

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($1 = 0.7910 pounds)

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, William James and Elizabeth Piper; Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell. Written by Katy Daigle; edited by Miral Fahmy, Barbara Lewis and Jon Boyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Valerie Volcovici covers U.S. climate and energy policy from Washington, DC. She focuses on climate and environmental regulations within federal agencies and Congress and how the energy transition is transforming in the United States. Other areas of coverage include his award-winning reporting on plastic pollution and the ins and outs of global climate diplomacy and the United Nations climate negotiations.

William leads the UK Breaking News team, ensuring Reuters is first to report key developments in political, business and general news. He previously spent almost a decade at Westminster as a UK political correspondent and previously covered financial markets during the Eurozone debt crisis.

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