To the world leaders at Cop28 we say: do not squander this chance to get back on track

This year’s summit in Dubai must be the moment when the developing world finally meets its climate crisis promises

After a year marked by unparalleled global temperature highs and climate impacts, leaders are set to meet in Dubai for the 28th conference of the parties to the UN framework convention on climate change – Cop28. We have entered an unprecedented era of global heating: 2023 is near certain to be the hottest year on record.

We have seen extreme wildfires blanketing North America, more than 15,000 killed by extreme weather events in Africa, record-breaking heatwaves in China, southern Europe and the United States, as well as deadly hurricanes and cyclones including Storm Daniel, which killed at least 10,000 people in Libya, Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, and caused at least $20bn (£16bn) of damage. Ocean temperatures also soared to record-breaking highs, posing a critical threat to the health of coral reefs and causing widespread disruption to marine ecosystems.

Science warns us that the severity of extreme weather events will only intensify unless decisive, bold action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every incremental rise in global temperatures underscores how critical a proactive response to the climate crisis is – world leaders need to act now.

Yet we are woefully underprepared. The recently published Adaptation Gap report 2023 from the UN environment programme (Unep), subtitled Underfinanced. Underprepared, finds that climate change adaptation – the process through which we prepare for and build resilience to the impacts of climate change – is slowing on all fronts, just when it should be accelerating to catch up with rising impacts.

This is particularly true for developing countries, which have the fewest resources to devote to adapting to climate change, and did the least to cause global heating. The Unep report found the costs of needed adaptation investments in developing countries are between $215bn and $387bn per year this decade. This is 10-18 times greater than current international public finance flows for adaptation, leaving a staggering financing gap of $194bn-$366bn per year.

World leaders must immediately rectify this. The Glasgow pact agreed at Cop26 called for a doubling of finance to support developing countries in adapting to the impacts of climate change and building resilience. Developed countries must fulfil this commitment. Countries must also adopt an ambitious framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation to guide action and investment on adaptation. We urge leaders to seize the moment and send an unequivocal message that we need urgent, meaningful investments in order to fortify people, economies and ecosystems against the escalating threats of the climate crisis.

We know that solutions already exist. A prime example is the UN secretary general’s ambitious Early Warnings for All initiative, which seeks to provide all people on Earth with access to early warning and early action information for hazardous weather, water or climate events by 2027. Other needed solutions include climate-informed planning and development; resilient food, water, health and infrastructure systems; and social safety nets for when calamity strikes.

Crucially, the framework must include robust, quantifiable targets so that we can all track progress over time, and must include means of implementation – finance, capacity building and technology transfer – to support the delivery of the framework, so that it doesn’t become become another hollow promise that is never kept.

With the complex mix of global challenges, a critical focus must be on fortifying agri-food systems. The resilience of these systems remains fundamental, especially as smallholder farmers in the global south bear the brunt of this crisis. It is a stark injustice that those who have contributed least to the climate crisis are left to fend for themselves, receiving a woefully inadequate share of climate finance support. More than 2 billion people depend on these smallholder farms for sustenance and livelihoods – yet less than 2% of global climate finance is directed toward their adaptation efforts. This disparity must be urgently addressed.

The climate crisis does not have to spell total catastrophe for the future of food systems, provided we embrace innovation and entrepreneurship, with women at the helm. The agri-food sector’s transformation hinges on actionable research and development, and turning local challenges into global opportunities. It is imperative that grassroots innovators are empowered with the resources, knowledge, and financial support they need; it will be pivotal in transforming vulnerabilities into strengths.

Humanity is at a crucial juncture; we must not squander this chance to get back on track. At Cop28, leaders must meet opportunity with collective will and fulfil the commitments that have, until now, remained unmet.

  • Graça Machel is a deputy chair of the global human rights organisation The Elders, and a women and children’s rights advocate. Ban Ki-moon is a deputy chair of The Elders, co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens, chair of the Global Center on Adaptation, and the 8th secretary general of the United Nations


Photograph: Muhammad J Elalwany/AP