Thursday briefing: Can the UN climate summit reset the dial for global heating?

<span>Photograph: Amr Alfiky/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Amr Alfiky/Reuters

Good morning.

This year is set to be the hottest on record and in the last 12 months a series of extreme weather events have caused devastation. There were record-breaking heatwaves that swept the planet, severe flooding, and wildfires that raged for weeks in Greece. This is a critical moment for climate action.

It is in this context that Cop28 – the 28th annual UN climate conference – begins in Dubai today. Representatives from more than 200 countries have been invited to the United Arab Emirates to create a plan to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels. Also under discussion will be the first global stocktake: the key mechanism to track global progress on the greenhouse gas emissions cuts needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement.

The summit has already been mired in controversy because the host country, the UAE, is the world’s seventh-largest oil producer with the fifth-largest gas reserves and has appointed as president of Cop28 the chief executive of Adnoc, the national oil company. Activists, campaign groups and politicians have heavily criticised the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber, saying it represents a gross conflict of interest. Teresa Anderson, the global lead on climate justice at the charity ActionAid, said: “This appointment goes beyond putting the fox in charge of the hen house.” French MEP Manon Aubry called it “an absolute scandal”.

Today’s newsletter will take you through the agenda for Cop28 and what could be achieved in the next fortnight. That’s right after the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Henry Kissinger | The secretary of state to Richard Nixon and eminence grise of world affairs has died aged 100. A giant of the Republican party, Kissinger remained influential until the end of his life, in large part thanks to his founding in 1982 of Kissinger Associates, a geopolitical consulting firm based in New York City, and the authorship of several books on international affairs. The firm announced his death in a statement on Wednesday evening.

  2. Israel-Hamas war latest | Israel’s military has said this morning that a truce with Hamas will continue into a seventh day, as mediators continued to work towards further exchanges of hostages held in Gaza for Palestinians prisoners of Israel.

  3. Nottingham | Nottingham city council has issued a section 114 notice, in effect declaring itself bankrupt, as experts warn an increasing number of councils are “reaching breaking point”. In an announcement on Wednesday, the local authority said it had a significant gap in its budget and the council’s chief financial officer had decided it was not able to produce a balanced budget for this year.

  4. NHS | The health service in England has been accused of “breaking the law” by creating a massive data platform that will share information about patients. NHS England sparked controversy last week when it handed a £330m contract to establish and operate the “Federated Data Platform” for seven years from next spring to Palantir, the US spytech company.

  5. UK news | Four teenagers drowned after the vehicle they were travelling in left a road in north Wales, a coroner has said. The inquests into the deaths of Jevon Hirst, 16, Harvey Owen, 17, Wilf Fitchett, 17, and Hugo Morris, 18, all from the Shropshire area, were opened and adjourned on Wednesday.

In depth: No-shows, fierce controversy and a climate summit in an oil-rich state – inside Cop28

Sultan al Jaber, the president of Cop28 and the head of the UAE’s national oil company.
Sultan al Jaber, the president of Cop28 and the head of the UAE’s national oil company. Photograph: Kamran Jebreili/AP

Holding climate talks in a country that has missed its own clean power target has raised eyebrows, but others have said it’s important to involve as many countries as possible to hold them to account. Either way, the next 14 days will be full of fights and squabbles in the hopes of coming up with a fair plan to keep the planet safe.


What’s on the agenda?

The central agenda item will be the global stocktake, which is a fundamental part of the Paris agreement. The stocktake is effectively a reality check for delegates who need to monitor implementation of the agreement and the progress of all signatories. The UN has written that the introduction of the stocktake represents a “critical turning point” in the effort to tackle the climate crisis. So far it is clear that everyone is significantly lagging behind the targets set in 2015.

Negotiators are expecting to clash over the loss and damage fund – a euphemistic way of referring to the compensation allocated to poorer countries to deal with the devastating effects of the climate crisis that they disproportionately shoulder. As Fiona Harvey has written, the fund has been a “vexed” topic at previous Cops, but last year there was finally a breakthrough on the issue, when richer countries agreed that a fund could be set up to disburse cash.

At Cop28, negotiators must find a way to make that commitment a reality. There will be a lot of discussion about climate finance more broadly, but these negotiations will likely also be fraught. Funds will be squeezed as many industrialised and richer countries are giving significant levels of aid to Ukraine and Israel to support them through their respective conflicts.

There will probably also be disagreements about the language and timeline associated with moving away from fossil fuel use. Campaigners and certain countries are pushing to include language on “phasing out” fossil fuels. The motivation behind clarifying the language is to fast-track the move to clean energy sources and “slash” greenhouse gas emissions before 2030. Others are advocating for weaker language on “phasing down” fossil fuels or otherwise limiting the scope of transition away from fossil fuels.

A lot of the language around Cop28 can be fairly impenetrable, so I recommend reading Fiona Harvey’s jargon buster on the most common terms and what they mean.


The no-shows

Outside the Cop28 venue in Dubai.
Outside the Cop28 venue in Dubai. Photograph: Ali Haider/EPA

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping are skipping the two-week event. The US president, who is dealing with a slew of political challenges, has sent special climate envoy John Kerry to push the US agenda, and China’s climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, is expected there in lieu of the Chinese president.

The absence of the heads of state of the world’s two largest economies is likely to draw criticism from countries of the global south. In reality, Biden and Xi begging off will not make much of a difference from a climate policy perspective. The two leaders did announce a surprise agreement this month to “triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030” in order to accelerate the replacement fossil fuels and reduce emissions sharply. The agreement has boosted ambition at the summit as a standard has now been set by two of the biggest polluters in the world.


The stakes

Temperatures are already 1.1-1.2C above pre-industrial levels and scientists have warned that we are much closer to missing the 1.5C climate target than previously thought. Independent monitor Climate Action Tracker predicts that, based on the current global commitments made to cut emissions, global temperatures will rise by 2.7C. Billions of people would be affected and forced to live in conditions that include “extreme disruption, morbidity and death through heat shock, water stress, crop failure and the spread of infectious disease”, George Monbiot writes. Course correcting is the highest priority for many delegates, because even though a 1.5C rise in temperature will still cause problems, the impact will be far less extreme.

To stay up to date with all the latest news coming out of Dubai, keep a close eye on the Guardian’s coverage of the summit over the next two weeks. For exclusive climate crisis reporting from Guardian journalists at Cop and beyond, sign up here to our weekly environment newsletter, Down to Earth.

What else we’ve been reading

Girls Aloud.
Girls Aloud. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian
  • Rich Pelley discovers karma, Wetherspoons style, as he meets the man behind Wetherspoons The Game!!, where 400,000 people send free food and drink to strangers in expectation of having the favour returned in the future. Toby Moses, head of newsletters

  • Intergenerational friendships can be really fruitful and beautiful but they are rare. In the Atlantic, Annie Midori Atherton takes a look at why that is. Nimo

  • There’s a new Guardian documentary out. Birdsong explores the whistling traditions of the Hmong people of northern Laos through the stories of three of its practitioners as the culture is crowded out by the modern world. Toby

  • Thomas Graham’s report from Acapulco, Mexico on the city’s disaster response a month after Hurricane Otis is incredibly fascinating. Graham reveals just how big the gaps are in the response system and how it is impacting the most vulnerable in the city. Nimo

  • Hannah Jane Parkinson’s tribute to Girls Aloud (above) ahead of next year’s reunion exudes enthusiasm for the pop act who managed to escape the confines of their manufactured origin: “My love for the band was never confined to the recording booth: these were five extremely likable young women navigating an epoch of tabloid misogyny and burgeoning online snark.” Toby


England’s Alessia Russo in action with Spain’s Olga Carmona and Laia Codina at the Spain v England World Cup Game in Sydney in August.
England’s Alessia Russo, front, at the Spain v England World Cup Game in Sydney in August. Photograph: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters

Champions League | Copenhagen ground out a 0-0 draw at Bayern Munich in Group A to end their opponents’ 17-game winning run in group-stage matches and give themselves a great chance of reaching the last 16. Arsenal romped into the last 16 as Kai Havertz sparked a six-goal demolition of Lens. Erik ten Hag bemoaned the number of goals Manchester United have conceded in the Champions League this season but refused to lay the blame at the door of the goalkeeper, André Onana, despite his two errors that cost victory in the 3-3 draw against Galatasaray.

Football | Two-thirds of players at this year’s Women’s World Cup (above) feel they were not at their physical peak during the tournament and a similar number have criticised the lack of recovery time after it, with one describing their quick return to club football as “mentally exhausting”.

Rugby | England captain Owen Farrell will not be available for this season’s Six Nations Championship after deciding to take a break from international rugby. In a statement, Farrell’s club Saracens said his decision had been made “in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental wellbeing”.

The front pages

“Air pollution from fossil fuels kills 5m people a year” – our Guardian print splash this morning. “UK pensions triple lock under threat from 2025” says the i while the Metro has “No change, no excuse”, which is about social media companies still targeting children with harmful content. The Financial Times leads with “US accuses Indian official of plotting to kill Sikh separatist in New York”. “Nightmare at A&E” – the Daily Mirror has an “NHS crisis exclusive” saying 54% of casualty units are rated as failing. “Hostage baby died in Gaza, Hamas claims” – that’s the Daily Telegraph, while the Daily Express version is “Smile of an innocent ‘lost’ in a war with no end”. “Migrant deal delays ‘put Rwandan help at risk’” is the warning from “senior diplomats” in the Times. And in the Daily Mail, more on currently the most famous author you’d probably never heard of before: “Outrage as royals in Scobie book race row named on TV”.

Today in Focus

A Saudi Aramco sign at an oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia
A Saudi Aramco sign at an oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia

The secret plan to ‘hook’ the developing world on oil

As the Cop28 climate summit begins in Dubai today, a secret Saudi Arabian plan to get poorer countries “hooked on its harmful products” has emerged. Damian Carrington reports

Cartoon of the day | Martin Rowson

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
Former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Photograph: David Parry/PA

Carol Ann Duffy, the UK’s first female poet laureate, has written a tribute to England’s female footballers. The sonnet, called We See You, is “an ode to every woman from the pitch to the boardroom, the communities and grassroots who are helping to level the playing field”, said Duffy, who grew up in a footballing family and was poet laureate from 2009 to 2019.

The poem, composed for the WeSeeYou Network, honours “a rich history of triumphant trailblazers” – from Mary Phillip, the first black player to captain and England women’s international team – to Pat Dunn, one of the first women to qualify as a football referee. “Red card for misogyny. Free kick in progress. We’re all onside,” Duffy writes.

The sonnet was composed for the WeSeeYouNetwork, which offers mentoring and training for women in sport. It concludes:

We’ll find you – 10 years old, girl with ball, incredible to be you.
So here’s our Team Talk: We’re right behind you. And we see you.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.