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Nations urged to phase out fossil fuels at UN climate talks

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The UN climate conference opens in Dubai on Thursday with nations urged to increase the pace of action on global warming and phase out fossil fuels, amid intense scrutiny of oil-rich hosts UAE.

The two-week-long climate negotiations being held this year in the glitzy Gulf city come at a pivotal moment, with emissions still rising and this year likely to be the hottest in human history.

Britain's King Charles III, world leaders, activists and lobbyists are among more than 97,000 people expected to attend what is being billed as the largest climate gathering of its kind.

The UN and hosts the United Arab Emirates say these talks, known as COP28, will be the most important since Paris in 2015, when nations agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius since the preindustrial era, and preferably to a safer limit of 1.5C.

Scientists say the world is not on track to achieve these targets and nations must make faster and deeper cuts to emissions to avert the most disastrous impacts of climate change.

On the eve of the summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the conference should aim for a complete "phaseout" of fossil fuels, a contested proposal supported by many nations and scientists that has dogged negotiations past. 

"Obviously, I am strongly in favour of language that includes (a) phaseout, even with a reasonable time framework," Guterres told AFP before flying to Dubai.

A central focus will be a stocktake of the world's limited progress on curbing global warming, which requires an official response at these talks.

"Right now, we're taking baby steps where we should be taking great leaps and great strides to get us to where we need to be," said UN climate chief Simon Stiell on Wednesday.

On Friday and Saturday, about 140 heads of state and government -- Pope Francis had to cancel at the last minute due to the flu -- are expected to articulate their ambition after a year of devastating floods, wildfires and storms across the globe.

On Thursday, nations are expected to formally approve the launch of a "loss and damage" fund to compensate climate-vulnerable countries after a year of hard-fought negotiations