World leaders, scientists, activists and more are all set to convene for talks at the United Nations climate conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. After a year of extreme weather around the world, including the hottest 12 months ever recorded, COP28 comes at a critical juncture for international climate action. Here’s what you need to know about it.
What is COP28 and when is it happening?
COP28 is taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), from 30 November to 12 December. It is the 28th Conference of Parties (COP) to be held as part of an international treaty called the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was established at the Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992. Its aim is to tackle the negative impacts human activity has on the environment, especially greenhouse gas emissions.
As part of the UNFCCC, all signatories – which currently include the 193 UN member states – gather every year at a COP to discuss efforts to combat and adapt to climate change.
Since the inaugural COP in 1995, crucial climate commitments have been agreed at these summits. This includes the landmark Paris Agreement from COP21 in 2015, the legally binding international treaty that sets out to keep global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Why is COP28 being held in Dubai?
Each of the UN’s five regional groups takes it in turns to host COP – this year the job fell to the Asia-Pacific Group.
In January, the UNFCCC Secretariat declared Asia-Pacific Group’s decision for the UAE to be the host, with Sultan Al Jaber, its minister of industry and advanced technology, at the helm as the conference’s president. Six months later, the UAE announced that COP28 will take place at Dubai’s Expo City.
Why are people worried about fossil fuel influence at COP28?
The UAE is one of the largest oil producers in the world and Al Jaber is also the CEO of the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the presidency has been met with intense concerns from climate campaigners over how the presidency may affect negotiations.
“Appointing the head of an oil company to the presidency was particularly alarming,” says Tom Evans at climate think tank E3G. “Are they going to be a fair and neutral presidency or are they going to draw a line somewhere if they see parties pushing on a fossil fuel outcome that would make them feel uncomfortable?”
But it is also essential to acknowledge the fossil industry in these negotiations, he says. “The [UAE] have been clear that their view of climate action involves bringing on board the private sector.”
In response to critics, Al Jaber has maintained that he is uniquely poised to galvanise the oil and gas industry into climate action.
Who will be at COP28?
More than 70,000 delegates are expected to attend, including hundreds of world leaders and senior government officials – making it one of the biggest multilateral events of the year.
So far, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, have said they will be there, as well as King Charles III and Pope Francis. However, some key climate players, such as China, India and the US, are still yet to confirm who will be attending.
Business leaders, climate scientists, activists, non-governmental and civil society organisations, Indigenous peoples and the media will be among the tens of thousands of other attendees.
“NGOs have a huge amount of specialised and highly technical expertise that governments rely on,” says Teresa Anderson at international NGO ActionAid. “A lot of developing countries have really small delegations, so they can’t be present across all issues that could affect them, and we help with that.”
What will be discussed at COP28?
Top of the agenda will be a “global stocktake”. As part of the Paris Agreement, a comprehensive assessment of all climate action to date is to be conducted every five years. The first of these stocktakes will conclude during COP28 and guide governments in their negotiations. It will also inform each country’s next round of climate goals, or nationally determined contributions, which they are due to submit in 2025.
Preliminary findings from the global stocktake, released in September, unsurprisingly warned that much stronger actions need to be taken in the next five years to avert breaching 1.5°C of warming.
Other big-ticket agenda items at COP28 will be firming up how a so-called loss and damage fund, for the countries most affected by climate change, will be financed and managed, and the phasing down of fossil fuels.