A speech by His Majesty The King at the opening of COP28, Dubai, U.A.E

Published

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.

Secretary General, Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to His Highness Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for his warm invitation to speak to you at the opening of COP28.

Eight years ago, I was most touched to be asked to speak at the opening of COP21 in Paris, which of course culminated in the Paris Agreement; a landmark moment of hope and optimism, when nations put differences to one side for the common good. I pray with all my heart that COP28 will be another critical turning point towards genuine transformational action at a time when, already, as scientists have been warning for so long, we are seeing alarming tipping points being reached.

I have spent a large proportion of my life trying to warn of the existential threats facing us over global warming, climate change and biodiversity loss. But I was not alone. For instance, Sheikh Mohamed ’s dear father, Sheikh Zayed, was advocating for clean energy at a time even before the United Arab Emirates, as such, came into being.

All these decades later, and despite all the attention, there is thirty per cent more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than there was back then, and almost forty per cent more methane. Some important progress has been made, but it worries me greatly that we remain so dreadfully far off track as the Global Stocktake report demonstrates so graphically.

The dangers are no longer distant risks. I have seen across the Commonwealth, and beyond, countless communities which are unable to withstand repeated shocks, whose lives and livelihoods are laid waste by climate change. Surely real action is required to stem the growing toll of its most vulnerable victims?

Repeated cyclones batter vulnerable island nations, like Vanuatu and Dominica. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been experiencing unprecedented floods, and East Africa is suffering a decades-long drought. This past summer, in common with Spain, Greece, the United States and many other countries, Canada experienced its most severe wildfire season on record, with eighteen-and-a-half million hectares of land burned, causing terrible loss of life and property and, of course, releasing enormous amounts of greenhouse gasses that contribute to dangerous “feedback loops”, to which climate scientists have been alerting us for decades.

As I have tried to say on many occasions, unless we rapidly repair and restore Nature’s unique economy, based on harmony and balance, which is our ultimate sustainer, our own economy and survivability will be imperilled.

Records are now being broken so often that we are perhaps becoming immune to what they are really telling us. 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.

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?

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.

As you gather for these critical negotiations, the hope of the world rests on the decisions you must take. I can only encourage you to consider some practical questions which might inform the task ahead of you:

Firstly, how can our multilateral organisations – which were established at a different time for different challenges – be strengthened for the crisis we face? How can we bring together our public, private, philanthropic and N.G.O. sectors ever more effectively, so that they all play their part in delivering climate action, each complementing the unique strengths of the others? Public finance alone will never be sufficient. But with the private sector firmly at the table, and a better, fairer international financial system, combined with the innovative use of risk reduction tools like first loss risk guarantees, we could mobilize the trillions of dollars we need – in the order of four-and-a-half to five trillion a year – to drive the transformation we need. Secondly, how can we ensure that finance flows to those developments most essential to a sustainable future, and away from practices that make our world more dangerous – across every industry in every part of the world? I have, for instance, been heartened by some of the steps taken by parts of the insurance sector, which plays such a vital role in incentivizing more sustainable approaches and providing an invaluable source of investment to reduce the risks we face.

Thirdly, how can we accelerate innovation and the deployment of renewable energy, of clean technology and other green alternatives, to move decisively towards investment in this vital transition across all industries? For instance, how can we increase investments in regenerative agriculture, which can be a Nature-positive carbon sink? What incentives are necessary – and how can those which have a perverse impact be eliminated with all due speed?

Fourthly, how can we bring together different solutions and initiatives to ensure coherent, long-term approaches across sectors, countries and industries? For virtually every artificial source of greenhouse gas emissions, there are alternatives or mitigations which can be put in place. That is why it is encouraging to see industry transition plans being developed, both nationally and globally, which will help each sector of our global economy onto practical pathways to a zero-carbon, Nature-positive future.

Fifthly, how can we forge an ambitious new vision for the next one hundred years? How can we draw on the extraordinary ingenuity of our societies – the ideas, knowledge and energy of our young people, our artists, our engineers, our communicators, and, importantly, our Indigenous peoples – to imagine a sustainable future for people everywhere? A future that is in harmony with Nature, not set against her.

Ladies and gentlemen, in your hands is an unmissable opportunity to keep our common hope alive. I can only urge you to meet it with ambition, imagination, and a true sense of the emergency we face, and together with a commitment to the practical action upon which our shared future depends.

After all, Ladies and Gentlemen, in 2050 our grandchildren won’t be asking what we said, they will be living with the consequences of what we did or didn’t do.

So, if we act together to safeguard our precious planet, the welfare of all our people will surely follow.

We need to remember that the indigenous world view teaches us that we are all connected. Not only as human beings, but with all living things and all that sustains life. As part of this grand and sacred system, harmony with Nature must be maintained. The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth. 

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