COP28 begins in Dubai but will it change anything?

The need for stronger commitments at the COP28 climate summit was highlighted today, with 2023 being judged the hottest year on record. ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

"Let's... Turn... Promises... Into... Progress." 

Those are the words stamped on huge flags hung from the ceiling inside Expo City in Dubai, where more than 70,000 delegates are starting to arrive, snaking their way through hours-long queues in the baking sun. 

That message encapsulates what this 28th COP ("Conference of the Parties") is all about. 

For years now countries across the world have talked the talk on climate - not least in Glasgow two years ago for COP26 - but the reality is that those words are not translating into action at a fast enough pace. 

And if there is something that everyone here in Dubai knows, it is that time is running out.

The window to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees, and avoid some of the most catastrophic impacts on our planet, is closing fast. And most agree that this COP is the last chance to change course.

As usual it has opened with a report from the World Meteorological Organisation that makes for grim reading. It warns that 2023 is set to be the hottest on record, that greenhouses gases continue to rise, there is record low Antarctic ice and record high sea levels. 

In Glasgow the British government rightly cheered the huge number of countries finally committing to a new "net zero" ambition. But that promise stretches decades into the future even for the most ambitious (it is 2050 for the UK) and fails to capture what is needed in the years before. 

In Dubai, the focus cannot be 2050, 2060 or even 2070 - it must be this decade and what can realistically be achieved by 2030. 

King Charles III is greeted by Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron as he arrives to meet students in Dubai ahead of COP28. Credit: PA

It is into that background that Rishi Sunak will fly tomorrow, having tweaked his own net zero policy back home.

It is true that delaying key measures on the path to net zero, such as the ban of new sales of petrol and diesel cars, and licencing hundreds of new oil and gas fields, only changes our trajectory slightly, but it is a shift that has been noticed the world over.

One climate expert asked: "How can we now persuade other countries to bear down on fossil fuels?" They said it raised legitimate questions about if we were still able to fulfil the promises of our own climate plan, the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).

Former COP President Alok Sharma at COP 26 in Glasgow. Credit: PA

Another senior figure argued that the headlines generated by the policy shift did hit our credibility. They said one of the worst parts was the decision to greenlight a new coalmine in Cumbria. Coming after we pushed hard at COP26 for language around phasing out coal.

They added: "Now the Chinese just laugh when we try to tell others what to do on coal".

That said, the UK remains a huge, influential force on the world stage. This year, unlike last, there was no hesitation on Rishi Sunak coming to COP28, although he is here for a very short period.

The foreign secretary, Lord Cameron, is also coming, and the King, who was invited by Dubai and at the request of the UK government, will be a part of the opening ceremony.

Although the optics of the three of them arriving on separate planes isn't great.

King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will meet in Dubai for COP28. Credit: PA

For the government, and our negotiators here, the key priorities are: to try to keep 1.5 degrees alive; to introduce similar targets on adaptation (which is countries preparing for the worst impacts of climate change); to push on beyond the promise of £100bn for adaptation; to agree to a loss and damage fund for the countries for whom it is too late to adapt (and who very rarely were big contributors to the carbon emissions driving the crisis); and finally, to include nature at the heart of the agreement.

The centrepiece here in Dubai will be the so-called global stocktake, when politicians agree how much actual progress has been made since the original deal signed in Paris in 2015. 

For Mr Sunak there will be domestic pressure too as Labour leader Keir Starmer arrives, and stays for longer than the PM, and with his own engagements with fellow world leaders.

There is a clear divide on climate between the parties, with Labour promising to borrow £28bn to invest in green technology - a policy regularly attacked by the Tories. 

But Mr Starmer is under pressure himself amid claims he is watering down this flagship policy, with talk of private finance and delays in the implementation. 

One thing is clear: the crisis is acute. And this COP is seen as a final chance to change the trajectory. 

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