COP28 Climate Summit in Dubai: What to Expect

In Brief

COP28 Climate Summit in Dubai: What to Expect

Scientists say governments need to act with more urgency to keep global warming in check. How much progress is possible at COP28?

At this year’s UN climate summit, set to take place from November 30 to December 12, world leaders will review their commitments to reduce carbon emissions at the end of a year marked by record-breaking climate events. Dramatically increasing climate finance and accelerating the energy transition will be high on the agenda as the world struggles to manage rising temperatures and historic natural disasters.

Who’s attending COP28?

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This year’s annual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meetings, known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP, is anticipated to be the largest one yet. The host country, United Arab Emirates (UAE), expects over seventy thousand attendees at COP28; participants will include government officials, business and financial leaders, youth advocates, delegations from Indigenous communities, and lobbyists and representatives from fossil fuel companies, who have had a growing presence at the meetings. At COP27 last year in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, fossil fuel delegates comprised more than any single country’s delegation size. Recent changes made to the COP registration process now ask participants about their relationship to the organizations they represent, which some watchdog groups claim is a small step toward transparency.

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U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry and China’s Special Representative on Climate Change Xie Zhenhua will also be attending the talks, representing the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses. Leading up to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November, the United States and China agreed to accelerate their commitments to reduce methane emissions and other greenhouse gasses, and resume a working group on climate cooperation. Experts say the current challenges to the U.S.-China relationship will set the “floor” for climate agreements at COP28.

COP28 will be hosted in Dubai and presided over by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of the country’s state-owned oil company. The UAE aims to position itself as a leader in combating climate change, but the country faces criticism for failing to take a more assertive stance on “phasing out” fossil fuels.

Al Jaber has said that protesters will be allowed to enter the country, but many activists remain concerned about the risk of arbitrary detention. According to U.S.-based human rights watchdog group Freedom House, the country is considered “not free” due to restrictions on civil liberties and a lack of political rights.

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What’s on the agenda?

This year’s summit will mark the conclusion of the first global stocktake, the two-year long evaluation of progress toward the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement commitments. Countries plan to operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund created at last year’s COP, which would provide critical financial assistance to nations most vulnerable to the harms of climate change. 

The UAE has four key pillars for COP28: 

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Energy transition. A coalition of over sixty countries, led by the United States and the EU, seeks to push for a pledge that would triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030 while working with heavy-emitting sectors to scale up decarbonization technology. This includes expanding low-carbon hydrogen, accelerating the development of carbon capture and storage, and zeroing out methane emissions

Climate finance. A lack of critical investments continues to be a major barrier for climate action. At last year’s COP27 summit, nations agreed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, an objective that the United Nations says would require $4 to $6 trillion each year in renewable energy and related infrastructure investments until 2030. And while the first half of 2023 saw a 22 percent rise (a total investment of $358 billion) in renewable energy investments compared to the start of the previous year, it is only a fraction of what is still needed to close the funding gap.

Other goals for the conference are to mobilize multilateral development banks to increase incentives for private sector investments in climate-related projects, improve accountability and adherence measures for the private sector to achieve net-zero commitments, and introduce common standards for voluntary carbon markets amid recent reports of fraudulent carbon offset programs.

Climate adaptation and resilience. Building climate resilience and sustainable development in lower-income countries, such as commitments to combat biodiversity loss and adopt sustainable farming methods, will be another fundamental topic at COP28. Although several European nations initially pledged around $300 million in total to the Loss and Damage Fund—the would-be major funding mechanism for climate resilience—this year’s COP aims to flesh out many of the fund’s unresolved details, including who will finance it and how, and which countries will be eligible to access the fund’s support. The summit also aims to operationalize the Global Goal on Adaptation, a framework established during the Paris Agreement to measure countries’ progress toward adapting to climate change.

Inclusivity. Building on the creation of the "youth envoy" at COP27, whose role was to amplify young voices in climate discussions, this year’s conference will invite youth delegates from island nations and lower-income countries. Young people, Indigenous and local leaders, and women and other gender minorities are often underrepresented in large multilateral organizations, yet are most vulnerable and marginalized by the effects of climate change.

What were the findings of the first global stocktake? 

The stocktake’s technical findings, which were released in September 2023, found that world governments are not on track in their efforts to meet their emissions reduction goals set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015. However, the report suggests that current policies have curbed the worst-case scenario of 3.7°C to 4.8°C (6.7°F to 8.6°F) of warming by 2100 and have shaved off a degree of warming from 2015 predictions.

But the stocktake urges countries to be much more ambitious in their actions and goals in order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Hitting this target, experts say, would require global greenhouse gas emissions to decrease by at least 43 percent by the end of this decade, an unprecedented result, particularly in industrializing countries where emissions continue to rise.

The findings of the first stocktake arrive at an alarming year of historic heat and extreme climate disasters. September 2023 saw the largest jump in global average temperatures on record, about 1.8°C (3.2°F) warmer than preindustrial levels. 

What might emerge from negotiations?

Historically, each COP concludes with countries adopting official protocols, agreements, or resolutions. For example, at COP21, countries established the 2015 Paris Agreement, setting the current standard for emissions reductions. These commitments, however, are typically not legally binding, and previous summits have concluded without concrete goals. (This was considered the case at COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, when countries failed to set targets limiting greenhouse gas emissions.)

Experts speculate this year’s COP negotiations may see a push for commitments to “phase out” fossil fuel emissions, with the European Union leading a potential deal. The stocktake explicitly states that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built if the world is to keep global average temperatures below 1.5°C (2.7°F) preindustrial levels, and that the existing coal industry will have to be phased out before 2050. However, most analysts say it’s unlikely there will be any new promises to phase out fossil fuels in Dubai this year.

Will Merrow created the graphics for this article.

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