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Cop28: highlights and lowlights so far

<span>Photograph: Kamran Jebreili/AP</span>
Photograph: Kamran Jebreili/AP

A summary of some of the news from the first half of the Cop28 UN climate conference in Dubai, including a spectacular row about the host president’s remarks on the science of fossil fuels, negotiations around fossil fuel reduction commitments, and other successes and setbacks so far.

Loss and damage fund agreed – but the money doesn’t add up

In a historic move, a loss and damage fund was agreed at the opening plenary of the first day of the Cop28 summit – something the global south has been demanding for decades. The Guardian’s Nina Lakhani reported that it was a “hard-won victory by developing countries that they hoped would signal a commitment by the developed, polluting nations to finally provide financial support for some of the destruction already under way”.

Loss and damage refers to the destruction the climate crisis is already wreaking on lives, livelihoods and infrastructure. Vulnerable and poor countries, which did little to cause the climate crisis, want to hold the biggest fossil fuel polluting countries liable for the pain and suffering they are experiencing from climate breakdown.

But there is a huge caveat to the agreed deal, which already contained various compromises. The $700m (£557m) so far pledged by wealthy nations most responsible for the climate emergency covers less than 0.2% of what is needed every year. Estimates for the annual cost of the damage have varied from $100bn-$580bn.

The funds should be new and additional to existing commitments, and come as grants not loans, say climate justice experts. But in most cases, the nature and timing of the pledged money remains unclear as few countries have released further details.

Shock over comments from the Cop28 president, Sultan Al Jaber

A few days into the conference, in a story that made headlines around the world, the Guardian’s Damian Carrington and the Centre for Climate Reporting revealed that Sultan Al Jaber had said in a video call last month that there was “no science” indicating that a phase-out of fossil fuels was needed to restrict global heating to 1.5C (2.7F).

Outcry from climate scientists followed and Al Jaber, who runs the UAE’s state-owned oil company, Adnoc, held an emergency press conference the following day in which he was forced to defend his views. He claimed his remarks were misrepresented and that he believed a phase-down and phase-out of fossil fuels was “inevitable and in fact essential”.

Defending progress made at the summit, a Cop28 spokesperson pointed to the progress on the loss and damage fund, launching a $30bn private market climate vehicle, bringing 51 oil companies to agree decarbonisation targets and 119 countries to sign a pledge to triple renewable energy. “This is just the beginning,” the spokesperson said.

Concerns this Cop is too dominated by the fossil fuel industry, however, were heightened again on Tuesday when an analysis showed a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists had access. This amounted to more than 2,400 people – or four times more than were registered the previous year.

Draft global stocktake text published with focus on fossil fuel language

A big focus this year is on and how the almost 200 countries at Cop28 will agree to some sort of negotiated text about fossil fuel reduction – either a phase-out or phase-down – in the global stocktake of progress on the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5C agreed in Paris in 2015.

Such an agreement would amount to a historic commitment, but every word of how this would be phrased is being haggled over, including whether this is a reduction or elimination of “unabated” fossil fuels – and what exactly that means. How this plays out will go a long way to deciding if this conference is a success.

A draft text was published on Tuesday and negotiators revealed there had been some progress but the big decisions were yet to be taken, the Guardian’s Fiona Harvey reported:

“On the crucial issue of the phase-out of fossil fuels, language that would commit countries to a phase-out had been retained in the text but the option of that being deleted was not ruled out. Attitudes are reportedly constructive, though observers noted that Saudi Arabia is attempting to introduce references to carbon capture and storage at every opportunity – and even where there should not be an opportunity. The kingdom is also trying to add the word ‘emissions’ after fossil fuels in any reference to their phase-out or phase-down.”

The position of China is also under scrutiny. A final text is scheduled to be agreed by the conference’s end on 12 December, though talks sometimes run on beyond this.

Incredibly, even though these UN Cop talks have been going since 1995, commitments to fossil fuel reductions have only been seriously on the agenda in the last couple of years, despite experts having long pointed out deep and fast cuts are essential.

Leaders in the spotlight at Cop28 – or not so much

UK: In a speech at the opening of the conference, King Charles warned of a “vast, frightening experiment” on the natural world.

Rishi Sunak, made an appearance at the start of Cop28, but blink and you will have missed it, according to critics who said the UK prime minister’s backtracking on climate policy meant the UK was retreating on climate leadership.

US: The president, Joe Biden, sent the vice-president, Kamala Harris, instead of appearing himself, and her appearance got a mixed response, not least because of the US’s booming oil and gas extraction industry.

The US climate envoy, John Kerry, announced a significant crackdown on methane emissions, which the Guardian’s Oliver Milman reported was “part of a new effort by several countries at the Cop28 summit to curb the ‘super pollutant’ that is responsible for turbocharging the climate crisis”.

Colombia: The president, Gustavo Petro, formally joined an alliance of nations calling for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty to prevent the “omnicide of planet Earth”. Petro said some would ask why a country reliant on fossil fuels would want to “commit suicide” but said “we are avoiding the omnicide of the world” the Guardian’s Patrick Greenfield reported.

Brazil: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, said it was not possible to tackle the climate crisis without also tackling inequality. Meanwhile, campaigners expressed alarm that Brazil chose the first day of the conference to announce it was aligning itself with the world’s biggest oil cartel, Opec.

Russia: On Wednesday, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, arrived in the UAE to discuss the Israel-Gaza conflict, to the alarm of the Ukrainian delegation.