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Heard at UN climate talks: Quotes that tell the story

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Heard at UN climate talks: Quotes that tell the story
December 13, 2023

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Over 14 days of U.N. climate talks, delegates from nearly 200 countries debated, made proposals, lobbed criticisms and did their best to convince each other how best to stop the planet from warming at a dangerous pace.

Much of the discussion at COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates, was technical, on subjects ranging from climate science to sustainable development. But ultimately the summit was about people— tens of thousands who came to have their voices heard. Here is a sampling of quotes that tell the story.

“These allegations are false, not true, incorrect and not accurate." — COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber on Nov. 30.

On the first day of the summit, al-Jaber denied a BBC report that said the oil-rich United Arab Emirates planned to make deals for oil and renewable energies during the negotiations. Al-Jaber runs both the UAE’s national oil company and a renewable energy firm. Leading up to the talks, many environmentalists and even politicians around the world argued that somebody from the oil industry, which is responsible for much of the emissions that cause climate change, shouldn’t be overseeing a climate summit.


“At the start of COP27 in Egypt last year, many people said it wouldn’t be agreed, let alone created in 12 months.” — Mohamed Adow, director of climate think tank Power Shift Africa, on Nov. 30.

Adow was referring to a fund to help poor countries being hammered by the extremes of climate change, such as floods, droughts and hurricanes. The fund was established on the first day of the summit after it was approved but not finalized last year. While there are many questions long term — namely how much will rich countries contribute? — its approval underscored that the world community believes developed nations, which are most responsible for climate change, have a moral imperative to help countries being severely affected.


“We are here all together, all the world together, to combat climate change and really, we’re negotiating for what? We’re negotiating for what in the middle of a genocide?” — Hadeel Ikhmais, a climate change expert with the Palestinian Authority, on Dec. 1.

During the two weeks of negotiations, the war between Israel and Hamas cast a long shadow over the event. Several world leaders expressed solidarity with Palestinians and there were several small pro-Palestinian demonstrations.


"The commitments to cut methane are significant, but they address the symptom, not the source.” — Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, on Dec. 2.

Fifty oil and gas companies said they would sharply reduce emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, across their operations by 2030. While celebrated by some climate experts, others noted that the pledge was voluntary, so not enforceable, and argued that it allowed the industry to simply continue its core business of drilling, extraction and export of oil.


“Well, I mean, it’s cheesy doing CPR on the Earth. We’re kind of in a lot of trouble right now ... anything we can do to bring attention to this issue.” — Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician from Alberta, Canada, on Dec. 3.

For the first time in its history, the climate talks included health as one of its thematic days. As temperatures have crept up and extreme weather events have intensified, researchers are finding links between climate change and negative impacts on human health, including heat stroke, breathing problems and infectious diseases.


“Please, help me, show me for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socio-economic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves." Al-Jaber, recorded in November, comments that surfaced Dec. 4.

The comments had the effect of a thunderclap. For environmentalists who opposed al-Jaber being COP28 president, it confirmed their narrative that an oil executive had no interest in leading the world toward less fossil fuel use. In a testy news conference the next day, al-Jaber said he had been taken out of context.


“The last half year has truly been shocking. Scientists are running out of adjectives to describe this.” — Copernicus Deputy Director Samantha Burgess on Dec. 6.

As negotiators settled into the second week of the talks, scientists announced that November had been the sixth month in a row of record temperatures, an ominous reminder of how quickly the Earth is warming. Put another way, the discussions at COP28 had real world implications, something that many delegates mentioned.


“We have to say how loud we’re going to be, what’s going to be written on the banners. We’re not allowed to name countries and corporations. So it’s really a very sanitized space.” — Lise Masson, from Friends of the Earth International, on Dec. 9.

While protests were allowed, as the tightly controlled UAE leadership had promised, there were so many restrictions that demonstrators said they struggled to be heard.


“They’re scared. I think they’re worried." — Former Ireland President Mary Robinson on Dec. 9.

Robinson was speaking about the interests of oil and gas when it was reported that OPEC, the oil cartel, had written to member countries asking that they reject any agreement around phasing out fossil fuels.

__ “We will not go silently to our watery graves.” — Samuel Silk, Marshall Islands chief delegate and natural resources minister, on Dec. 11.

Silk was talking about a draft agreement that he and numerous others said had weak language on fossil fuels. The strong opposition to the initial draft would push delegates to negotiate for another two days.


“Humanity has finally done what is long, long, long overdue.” — Wopke Hoekstra, European Union commissioner for climate action, on Dec. 13.

For the first time in 28 years of climate talks, delegates said in plain language that the world needed to transition away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. The upshot of that was a sharp ramping up of green energies like wind and solar. It will take years to judge what impact the decision has, but it has sent a clear message to the world about the need to radically shift its energy systems.


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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