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COP28: UN chief previews panel on management of minerals essential for green energy transition

The UN chief made this announcement in an address to a summit of developing country leaders taking place at the latest UN climate conference, COP28, now under way in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Guterres, who has been a strong proponent of moving away from fossil fuels, told leaders of the Group of 77 Developing Countries, which includes China, that the availability and accessibility of critical energy transition minerals is crucial to reach the goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“COP28 must commit countries to triple renewables capacity, double energy efficiency, and bring clean energy to all, by 2030,” stated the UN chief, stressing that the phase out fossil fuels with a roadmap that is equitable and with a timeframe compatible with 1.5 degrees is also essential. 

As such, he said, “we need a just, fair and equitable transition from fossil fuels to renewables…The very existence of some countries in this room depends on it.” 

The green energy boom is an opportunity for commodity-rich developing countries to transform and diversify their economies.

However, a lack of global guidance to manage these resources could exacerbate geopolitical risks and environmental and social challenges, including impacts on water, biodiversity, health and indigenous peoples’ rights.

“The extraction of critical minerals for the clean energy revolution – from wind farms to solar panels and battery manufacturing – must be done in a sustainable, fair and just way,” UN chief said, adding that the demand for minerals, such as copper, lithium and cobalt, is set to increase almost fourfold by 2030.

“We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past,” with a systematic exploitation of developing countries reduced to the production of basic raw materials.

The proposed Panel on Critical Energy Transition Minerals will bring together governments, international organizations, industry, and civil society to develop common and voluntary principles to guide extractive industries in the years ahead “in the name of justice and sustainability.”

‘Keep pushing the needle’

In his remarks, UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis praised the G77 and China for leading the charge to shift to renewable energy and leading the calls for building resilience.

“They have spearheaded debates on climate finance – including pushing for the reform of the international financial architecture, that would afford developing countries better access to development funding without the overhang of unsustainable debt levels,” he added.

The Assembly President noted his intention to convene a ‘Sustainability Week’ in April 2024, to address the dynamics of sustainability in relation to infrastructure, transportation, tourism, and, of course, energy.

“We must continue to push the needle on these sectors that are so essential to modern economies, that yet constitute some of the greatest contributors to atmospheric emissions,” he said invited the developing country leaders to come to New York for that ‘week’ to build on the impact of the decisions taken at COP28.

‘Renewables revolution’

The second and final day of the World Climate Action Summit – the ministerial-level segment of COP28, where world leaders have been laying out their national strategies – also saw the Secretary General press for accelerated climate action that would help offset the challenges faced by mountainous and landlocked developing countries.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre left) and other panellist at the High-Level meeting on Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) held during the World Climate Action Summit at COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
UNFCCC/Kiara Worth

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre left) and other panellist at the High-Level meeting on Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) held during the World Climate Action Summit at COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

At a high-level meeting of the landlocked developing countries (LLDc), the UN chief highlighted that they are on frontlines of climate change, facing a range of dramatic impacts: desertification and prolonged droughts, catastrophic biodiversity loss and rapidly melting glaciers.

According to Mr. Guterres, there are no LLDCs that are big emitters, but all landlocked nations are coping with the negative and devastating impacts of runaway emissions and the climate chaos it drives.

“So I think you have a moral authority to tell big emitters, namely the G20 countries that represent 80 per cent of the emissions, it’s time to seriously reduce emissions,” so the more than 500 million people living in least developed countries are not so impacted by the accelerated effects of climate change and benefit from “the same levels of well-being that we want for everyone everywhere in the world.”

At the same time, he pointed out how they could also harness it to their advantage, reaping the “rewards of the renewables revolution.”

“You can be champions of an energy transition that is sustainable, just, inclusive, and equitable. But to do all of this, you need much, much more support,” said Mr. Guterres.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, alongside Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva, President Brazil and Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of Cuba attend the G77 and China Leaders’ Summit during COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
COP28/Mahmoud Khaled

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, alongside Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva, President Brazil and Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of Cuba attend the G77 and China Leaders’ Summit during COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

‘Distress call’

Addressing the high-level side event ‘Call of the Mountain: Who Saves us from the Climate Crisis?’, the UN chief said mountains are issuing a distress call, and COP28 must respond with a strong rescue plan.

Mr. Guterres described his recent “unforgettable visit” to Nepal, where he was deeply shocked to learn about the rapid pace of glacier melting and its “terrible impact” on local communities.

The Himalayan nation has lost close to a third of its ice in just over 30 years – a direct result of the greenhouse [gas] pollution heating our planet.

“Nepal, and other vulnerable mountain countries, are being pounded by a crisis that is not of their making. Unless we change course, we will unleash catastrophe,” he explained.

Screenshot of a monitor in the meeting room at the COP28 event in Expo City in Dubai on ‘Call of the Mountains: who saves us from the climate crisis?’
UNFCCC/Kiara Worth

Screenshot of a monitor in the meeting room at the COP28 event in Expo City in Dubai on ‘Call of the Mountains: who saves us from the climate crisis?’

COP28: Towards solutions

Against the backdrop of the challenges faced by vulnerable landlocks and mountainous nations, The Secretary-General underscored the critical importance of the expected decisions by delegates at COP28 on the so-called ‘Global Stocktake’, which should set the stage for a “surge in global climate ambition in 2025 and beyond.”

The stocktake is a crucial mechanism established under the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, aimed at measuring progress towards the accord’s goals and encouraging countries to ramp up their climate action plans.

An ambitious outcome from the global stocktake process will require major progress on three fronts, Mr. Guterres explained.

Finance: “We need to see a boosting of contributions to the new Loss and Damage Fund.” Developed countries need to make good on their financial commitments

Reducing emissions: “We must preserve the limit of 1.5-degrees of heating, as set out in the Paris Agreement, to avert the worst of climate chaos.” It must advance a just, fair and equitable transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

More international cooperation: Achieving the climate goals agreed in Paris “depend on new levels of collaboration between government, and between countries and companies, to drive down emissions, and to protect everyone on earth with an effective early warning system by 2027.”

Want to know more? Check out our special events page, where you can find all our coverage of the COP28 climate conference, including stories and videos, explainers and our newsletter.

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