'Millions of lives at stake', says UN's climate chief as Cop28 enters final hours

Simon Stiell said that tactical blockades must not be allowed to destroy the chance of a meaningful deal

UN climate change executive secretary Simon Stiell on the second day of the summit. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Countries must clear away blockades in the Cop28 negotiations or risk destroying the process for everyone, the UN official in charge of the process has said.

Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, insisted that nations could leave Dubai with a deal that reflects “the highest levels of ambition” on dealing with climate change.

Without the strongest action, “countless millions of lives” would be lost, Mr Stiell said, adding that as talks entered their “crucial home stretch”, everything was on the table.

“How do we get from here a meaningful deal? First, clear the unnecessary tactical blockades out of the way, and there have been many on this journey,” he said.

“The global stocktake needs to help all countries get out of this mess. Any strategic landmines that blow it up for one, blow it up for all. The world is watching, as are thousands of members of the global media and thousands of observers here in Dubai. There is nowhere to hide.

“Second, I urge negotiators to reject incrementalism. Each step back from the highest ambition will cost countless millions of lives, not in the next political or economic cycle for future leaders to deal with, but right now, across every country.”

Cop28 is scheduled to conclude at 11am on Tuesday and while previous Cop summits have been extended as nations thrash out agreements, Mr Stiell said that “everyone is focused” on getting an agreement “within the next 24 hours”. He said that the areas “where options need to be negotiated have narrowed significantly”.

There was the opportunity, “right here in Dubai over the next 24 hours” for negotiators to begin what Mr Stiell described as “a new chapter, one that really delivers for people and planet”.

With “all eyes on the prize”, he said that “highest ambition outcomes must stay front and centre”.

“The highest ambition outcomes are the only way for all governments to leave Dubai with a win under their belt. One thing is for certain: ‘I win, you lose,’ is a recipe for collective failure,” he said.

If strong action is to be taken on cutting emissions, Mr Stiell said that support needed to be available for countries to make the transition to renewable energy.

“Finance must be the bedrock to scale up climate action on all fronts,” he said.

He said that “a just transition” to a world that was not dependent on fossil fuels was needed, but that it was up to parties to decide what that would look like, and that was being debated.

“It’s up to the parties,” he said. “Everything, everything is on the table for an outcome that sends a signal that we’ve responded to the climate crisis.”

Updated: December 11, 2023, 1:52 PM