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Cop28 opened on Thursday with a historic deal to finally launch and capitalise a fund that helps the most vulnerable countries deal with the worst effects of climate change.
With a bang of the gavel, Cop28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber delivered an early win for the crucial talks in Dubai.
Loss and damage has long been sought by countries on the front lines of the crisis that have often done the least to cause the problem.
The UAE and Germany immediately announced $100 million each to the fund, with up to $75 million from the UK.
The US committed $17.5 million and Japan $10 million.
“The fact that we have been able to achieve such a significant milestone on the first day of this Cop is unprecedented. This is historic,” Dr Al Jaber later told reporters.
“I have been to 12 Cops before. Never ever did I feel this level of excitement,” added Dr Al Jaber. However, he cautioned, now the “real work begins”.
In the immediate jubilation of the decision that brought delegates to their feet, it was easy to forget that just a few weeks ago the prospect of such a deal looked difficult.
The final round of talks in the lead-up to the climate summit had broken up in acrimony, but an extra session in Abu Dhabi this month ended the deadlock.
Hoping to build on this momentum, the Cop28 presidency sought an early agreement during the opening session.
Supposed to start at 10am, the session was delayed by several hours, which is typical of Cops as parties tend to wrangle over words and clauses.
But it started at 2pm and during the late afternoon, Dr Al Jaber brought the gavel down on the historic agreement.
The contentions loss and damage fund was created at Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh last year. It broadly refers to financial assistance for vulnerable countries to deal with the worst impacts of climate change.
Historically, wealthier countries have resisted this type of fund believing it would be viewed as a type of climate reparations. But loss and damage is seen as hugely important for countries hardest hit by the climate crisis but which have done the least to create the problem in terms of emissions.
Not everyone will be happy with the loss and damage deal though. Developing countries compromised on the choice of host – the World Bank – which will oversee payments, and it is thought billions of dollars will be needed to deal with worst affects of climate change.
“The responsibility now lies with affluent nations,” wrote Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, in a statement posted on X. “They must meet their financial obligations in a manner proportionate to their role in the climate crisis – driven by decades of fossil fuel consumption and a lack of adequate climate finance delivered to the Global South.”
Nonetheless, this will be seen as a major early breakthrough for Cop28 that has faced some criticism over the past few weeks.
During the same session, Dr Al Jaber brought the gavel down on the adaptation of the Cop28 agenda, ensuring the negotiations could begin early and in earnest.
‘Do or not do. There is no try'
The first session also heard impassioned calls to action not just from Dr Al Jaber but also the UN climate chief Simon Stiell.
“As Yoda would say: ‘Do or not do. There is no try,’ ” Mr Stiell told the opening session. “Yes, this is the biggest Cop yet – but attending a Cop does not tick the climate box for the year. The badges around your necks make you responsible for delivering climate action here and at home.” Mr Stiell said he was committing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to “track all announcements made and initiatives launched” long after the cameras had left the Cop28 venue.
“Remember this,” he said. “Behind every line you work on, every word or comma you wrestle with here at Cop, there is a human being, a family, a community, that depends on you.”
Mr Stiell’s words sounded a further note of caution on a jubilant first day, as there are still days of tough talks ahead.
Other sticking points over the course of the summit are expected to be the global stocktake, scaling up climate finance and, potentially, the future of fossil fuels.
But the loss and damage breakthrough and early adoption of the agenda marked a positive culmination of the first day of a Cop climate summit that is at least double the size of last year's and on track to be the largest ever.
On Friday, the two-day World Climate Action Summit begins, with more than 100 world leaders and representatives from nearly every country in attendance.
UAE President Sheikh Mohamed is scheduled to welcome leaders, while King Charles will make a speech on the need to tackle the climate threat together.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, Abdel Fattah El Sisi, President of Egypt, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad of Qatar and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil, are among the leaders due to speak.
From Sunday, crunch talks will ramp up and last until the summit's final day, December 12.
Held behind closed doors, they will focus on some of the hardest issues.
Attendees began streaming into the Expo venue in Dubai early on Thursday, injecting colour and passion into an often dry world of negotiations.
Juan David Amaya, a 16-year-old climate activist from Villavicencio, Colombia, told The National he started mobilising his community against the palm industry when he was just 13.
“The climate crisis is causing so many humanitarian problems,” he said. “I really want to see outcomes for adaptation at Cop28.”