International climate talks turned to a power game on Friday as dozens of world leaders took turns bemoaning the pain of an overheating planet, 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, as well as Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey were among more than 170 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.”
Jordan's King Abdullah said it was impossible to separate climate change from the war in Gaza.
“Climate threats magnify the devastation of war,’’ the king said. “Let’s be inclusive of the most vulnerable Palestinians severely impacted by the war.”
Israel President Isaac Herzog had been scheduled to speak Friday afternoon, which had the potential of causing diplomatic tensions because of the war. Officials for the United Nations climate office said Herzog appeared to have left and did not speak.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told The Associated Press that conflicts are “undermining our capability to fight climate change,” and also fuel conflict because of migration and competition for scarce resources.
Still with all the problems of the world, “climate change stands out by far as the defining issue of our era," Kenya President William Ruto said.
Ruto and many of the leaders repeated the major goals of conference organizers to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency. Those goals aren't controversial, but what to do about fossil fuels is.
Guterres, a longtime 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.”
The conference president on Friday issued a document calling for a “phase-down” of fossil fuels, which experts say is less than a phase-out. But 106 nations in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and in the Pacific signed a statement calling for a phase-out.
Britain's King Charles III warned of “a starker and darker world” unless leaders change course.
“The hope of the world rests on the decisions you must take,” he told leaders, urging them “to meet it with ambition, imagination, and a true sense of the emergency we face.”
“The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth,” Charles said.
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.
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