UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell

By Pita Ligaiula at COP28 in Dubai, UAE

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell Thursday emphasised the urgent need to accelerate climate action.

In his opening speech at COP28 in Dubai, Stiell began by expressing gratitude to Egypt for their stewardship over the past year and acknowledged the weighty responsibility being passed on to the Emirati colleagues.

Stiell likened humanity’s progress in climate action to watching a baby take hesitant steps.

He emphasised the critical juncture the world finds itself in, transitioning slowly from an unstable, resilient-lacking environment to addressing the complex impacts of climate change.

Stiell highlighted the severity of the situation, noting that the current year marked the hottest on record, with alarming records being broken and lives and livelihoods being at stake.

“This has been the hottest year ever in humanity. So many terrifying records were broken. We are paying with people’s lives and livelihoods.”

He also presented two options for the Global Stocktake.

“We’ve got two options. Firstly – we can note the lack of progress, tweaking our current best practices, and encourage ourselves to do more ‘at some other point in time.’ Or we decide at what point we will have made everyone on the planet safe and resilient,” he said.

The Executive Secretary stressed the necessity of funding the transition adequately, responding to loss and damage, and committing to a new energy system.

He warned against the consequences of not signaling the decline of the fossil fuel era, emphasising the importance of a just transition that considers justice within and between countries.

“If we do not signal the terminal decline of the fossil fuel era as we know it, we welcome our own terminal decline. And we choose to pay with people’s lives. If this transition isn’t just, we won’t transition at all,” Stiell said.

Looking ahead, Stiell outlined the vision for the next two years.

“In 2024, countries will submit their first Biennial Transparency Report. This will mean the reality of individual progress can’t be concealed. In 2025, countries must deliver new Nationally Determined Contributions.”

He set the expectation that every commitment at COP30 must align with a 1.5-degree world.

“Science tells us we have around six years before we exhaust the planet’s ability to cope with our emissions. Before we blow through the 1.5-degree limit.”

“Let’s be transparent in the actions and decisions we take here with each other. Every participant at this COP is already publicly listed. They will hold us to account on what we do, or do not do.”

He challenged the notion of merely ‘trying to try,’ emphasising that incremental efforts are insufficient for effective climate action.

Acknowledging the role of young people and civil society, Stiell called for transparency in actions and decisions, asserting the responsibility of attendees to deliver climate action both at the conference and in their respective home countries.

“Turn the badge around your necks into a badge of honour, and a life belt for the millions of people you are working for. Accelerate climate action. Teach it to run,” he told World leaders at the opening of COP28 in Dubai.

Meanwhile, COP28 President, Dr Sultan Al Jaber says all parties have agreed Thursday to operationalise Loss and Damage.

It is a monumental step towards meaningful support for the world’s most vulnerable.

“We’ve delivered history today. The first time a decision has been adopted on day 1 of any COP. And the speed in which we have done so is also historic.

“Getting this done demonstrates the hard work of so many, particularly members of the transitional committee who worked tirelessly to get us to this point.

This is evidence that we can deliver. COP28 can deliver. And colleagues, this now sets a clear ambition for us to deliver a comprehensive Global Stocktake (GST) decision over the next 12 days,” said Dr Sultan Al Jaber.