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King Charles tells Cop28 summit ‘hope of the world’ rests on Dubai climate talks

Charles tells world leaders gathered in UAE that we are into ‘dangerous, unchartered territory’ in the climate crisis and that the globe is now conducting a ‘vast, frightening experiment’

Stuti Mishra
at Cop28 in Dubai
Friday 01 December 2023 15:32 GMT
Cop28: King Charles says hope of the world rests on decisions we must take

King Charles has said the “hope of the world” rests on climate talks taking place in the coming two weeks in Dubai, as he issued a call to world leaders gathered on Friday at the start of the Cop28 summit.

Addressing an auditorium packed with around 1,000 heads of state and senior dignatories, the King warned that the world was “dreadfully far off track” in delivering a sustainable future for the climate. Charles said the world faces a “starker and darker” choice now than it ever has before.

“When we see the news that this last Northern Hemisphere summer, for instance, was the warmest global average temperature on record, we need to pause to process what this actually means: we are taking the natural world outside balanced norms and limits, and into dangerous, uncharted territory,” he said.

“We are carrying out a vast, frightening experiment of changing every ecological condition, all at once, at a pace that far outstrips nature’s ability to cope. As we work towards a zero-carbon future, we must work equally towards being nature-positive... With what we are witnessing, our choice now is a starker, and darker one: how dangerous are we actually prepared to make our world?”

Charles delivered the speech at a time when, more than 4,000 miles back home, a race row continued to rumble on in the wake of Omid Scobie’s royal exposé. A Dutch translation of the book identified Charles and the Princess of Wales as the two senior royals who allegedly raised “concerns” about the skin colour of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s son.

The row was initially sparked in the wake of a bombshell interview of Harry and Meghan by Oprah Winfrey in 2021, where they alleged an unidentified member of the monarchy had raised “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.

The apparent “translation error” meant the Dutch versions were dramatically pulled from shelves and pulped at the eleventh hour, but not before the names began circulating on social media. The latest twist in the story has increased pressure on Buckingham Palace, which is considering all options, but is yet to respond.

A life-long environmentalist, Charles was invited to be the first foreign head of state to speak at the opening ceremony of the conference, with the King saying he was present at Cop21 when the landmark Paris Agreement was signed, setting out the ambition to keep average global temperature rises below 1.5C. As delegates began arriving for the summit, the World Meteorological Organisation said we are already on track for 1.4C of warming in 2023.

The King said that trillions of dollars will be needed to drive the transformation across all facets of society required to tackle the climate crisis and that public finance alone “will never be sufficient”. That will mean bringing together the “public, private, philanthropic and the NGO [non-governmental organisation] sectors ever more effectively”.

“I pray with all my heart that Cop28 will be another critical turning point for genuine transformational action,” the King said.

“In 2050 our grandchildren won’t be asking what we said, they will be living with the consequences of what we did or did not do.

“In your hands is an unmissable opportunity to keep our common hope alive,” he added. “I can only urge you to meet it with ambition, imagination, and a true sense of the emergency we face.”

World leaders including France’s Emmanuel Macron, India’s Narendra Modi, Britain’s Rishi Sunak and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan were present in the audience to watch the King’s speech. On Friday morning many world leaders, including Charles, strolled in unison down the flag-lined boulevard of Expo City in Dubai in a gesture of unity. Around 160 world leaders were scheduled to address the summit over the course of Friday and Saturday.

“If we act together to safeguard our planet, the welfare of our people will surely follow,” the King said. “The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth.”

“Dealing with this is a job for us all. Change will come by working together and making it easier to embrace decisions that will sustain our world, rather than carry on as though there are no limits, or as though our actions have no consequences.”

His speech is the culmination of decades of dedication to environmental issues. Charles first publicly addressed the reality of climate change in 1970 while still heir to the throne, and campaigning on conservation issues and promoting organic farming. “I’ve spent a large proportion of my life trying to warn of the existential threat posed by global warming,” he told the summit.

Opening parliament for the first time as monarch last month, Charles read out a list of government bills that included controversial new licences for oil drilling in the North Sea. It is just one of the decisions that has led to questions over the UK government’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis. Mr Sunak, the King and foreign secretary David Cameron also raised eyebrows by travelling in separate private jets to attend the Dubai talks.

There was no direct mention of reducing reliance on oil and gas in the King’s speech – a notable omission given the controversy already surrounding a UN climate summit hosted by an oil company’s chief executive.

Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, told The Independent: “If we are really serious about tackling the climate crisis, we must address the elephant in the room: the continued expansion of fossil fuels by wealthy Commonwealth nations like the UK, Canada, and Australia.”

Zahra Hdidou, senior climate and resilience adviser at ActionAid UK, said the King’s ambition on climate action was “is deeply compromised by his own government”.

“The irony should not be lost that the King is flanked at the summit by two men who remain committed to climate-wrecking policies,” she said, referring to Mr Sunak and Lord Cameron.

“While we understand His Majesty must stick to his government’s script on climate, we can only hope that behind the scenes he uses his influence to persuade both men to abandon their reckless, anti-climate policies.”

Tessa Khan, executive director at Uplift, an organisation campaigning for a fossil fuel free UK, said that as a “longstanding environmental campaigner” the King “would no doubt understand that fossil fuels are at the heart of the climate crisis”.

“While he’s duty-bound to stay out of politics, he will know that the UK is one of a small handful of countries that is opening up major new oil and gas fields when we know incompatible with a safe climate.”

And Izzie McIntosh, climate campaign manager at Global Justice Now, said Charles’ “dire warnings are meaningless unless the UK government backs them up with actions”.

The King spoke after Cop28 was opened by the president of host country the UAE, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who said his country had “pledged to bring the world together to unite, work and deliver”.

Speaking before Charles, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called on the world leaders gathered to “make this Cop a game-changer”.

Mr Guterres told the summit that “Earth’s vital signs are failing… we are minutes to midnight for the 1.5C warming limit.

“We can - you can - prevent planetary crash and burn. We have the technologies… if we act now.”

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