King Charles issues call to arms in Cop28 opening statement

King Charles gave a call to arms in his Cop28 climate summit opening statement, as Rishi Sunak expressed delight over the monarch’s record championing the issue.

Sunak said it was a “proud moment” for him to witness Charles deliver his speech on Friday, which “speaks volumes about our type of leadership as a country”.

Related: Agreement on loss and damage deal reached on first day of Cop28 talks

“We’ve got our head of state there, delivering a call to arms in the opening statement, which speaks volumes about the respect that he’s got on this issue around the world.

“We’ve got the head of government there with me, and we’ve got our chief diplomat there and the foreign secretary. There are very few countries that will be able to say what I’ve just said.”

Speaking to reporters, the prime minister attempted to shut down any insinuation that Downing Street had interfered with the monarch’s speech and movements. Last year, Charles, a climate enthusiast, was unable to attend Cop27 after Sunak spent weeks deliberating over whether he would attend the summit for even one day.

In his speech on Friday, Charles warned the world remained “dreadfully far off track” in key climate targets from the Paris agreement in 2015 and called for meaningful change.

The king said: “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.

“Despite all the attention, there is 30% more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than there was back then, and almost 40% 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 prime minister’s spokesperson had earlier said that Sunak and the king’s Cop28 diaries were designed to “complement not duplicate”.

Cop28 is the first time that countries will assess progress towards this goal in what is being called the “global stocktake”.

Sunak’s attendance comes after he scaled back a host of pledges designed to help the UK reach net zero by 2050, vowed to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves by granting new North Sea drilling licences, and faced accusations from former colleagues of being uninterested in the environment.

In September, he delayed the ban on new diesel and petrol cars to 2035, watered down plans to strip out polluting gas and oil boilers, and scrapped the requirement for energy efficiency upgrades for homes, arguing that hitting climate targets should not burden the public.

The prime minister committed to attend the climate conference after criticism of his initial decision not to go to Cop27 in 2022 led to a last-minute U-turn.

Sunak insisted the UK was a “world leader” in tackling the climate crisis, as he rebuffed claims the UK was no longer a serious partner at Cop based on his weakening of the UK’s green pledges.

Before attending the summit, he was accused of sending out the wrong signals on tackling the climate emergency as he headed to the summit in Dubai after saying his revised net zero targets showed he was “not in hock to the ideological zealots”.

The prime minister outlined plans to allocate about £1.6bn of climate finance during the summit and claimed the UK would exceed its target of spending £11.6bn over the five years to 2026.

He faces accusations from charities and non-governmental organisations that the UK is on track to meet the target only by changing the way it calculates climate aid – and otherwise would fall far short of the total.

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