COP28 will be held in Dubai, U.A.E. Robert Bock, Unsplash

What should we expect at COP28?

Decarbonization pledges, funding mechanisms, and a Global Stocktake

From 3–10 December, the GLF team is in Dubai reporting from COP28. Follow us here for live updates, live-streamed interviews and daily wrap-ups.

From 30 November until 12 December, thousands of delegates will meet in Dubai, U.A.E. for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) – and the pressure is on to keep the Paris Agreement targets alive.

Last year at COP27, world leaders failed to set new climate targets, instead only calling for countries to make new pledges in time for COP28. The summit was also overshadowed by the World Cup in Qatar, the ongoing war in Ukraine – which pressured countries to expand their native oil and gas reserves – and the G20 summit in Bali, which prompted several world leaders to skip the COP altogether.

Countries did agree to create a Loss and Damage Fund, with the details to be hammered out at COP28. But rich countries have consistently fallen short of providing the USD 100 billion in annual funding they pledged in 2009 to help poorer nations cope with climate change.

Even if achieved, that amount is a drop in the bucket compared to the more than USD 1 trillion in annual funding that developing countries will need by 2030, according to a report by the Independent High-Level Expert Group on Climate Finance.

Setbacks at previous COPs mean decision makers have a high bar to clear at COP28 if they hope to set humanity on a trajectory to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In his official Letter to the Parties on 15 November, COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber asked attendees to “be positive and be prepared,” setting a tone of necessary, if cautious, optimism.

What’s on the agenda at COP28:

  • The first-ever Global Stocktake on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)
  • A new decarbonization pledge
  • An agreement to triple renewable energy by the end of this decade
  • A financial mechanism for the Loss and Damage Fund
Pope Francis
Pope Francis will be among the notable public figures attending COP28. Catholic Church England and Wales, Flickr

Who will be at COP28?

The talks will be attended by delegates from over 200 countries, including the U.S., China, India, Brazil, and the Alliance of Small Island States. Several major world leaders, including U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, will be present.

Other notable figures will include Pope Francis, Bill Gates, climate activist Vanessa Nakate and King Charles III, who is set to give the opening address on 1 December.

The summit will also gather some 70,000 campaigners, businesspeople, lobbyists and Indigenous leaders, making it the biggest COP yet – far dwarfing the 40,000 who convened in Glasgow for COP26 in 2021.

What is the ‘Global Stocktake?’

COP28 will mark the conclusion of the first ‘Global Stocktake’ — a review process that will help countries ‘take stock’ of how well they’re performing on their Nationally Determined Contribution pledges (NDCs) to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets.

In the run-up to the COP, the UN-led Global Stocktake report warned that countries are lagging distressingly behind: states need to reduce emissions by 20 gigatons before end-of-decade to maintain Paris targets.

This year’s Stocktake discussions will be used to help shape and improve the next round of climate action plans, which are due in 2025, and the entire review process will repeat every five years.

Oil refinery
Countries are unlikely to agree to phase out fossil fuels at COP28. Lasse Rindsborg, Unsplash

Will we see a decision to phase out fossil fuels?

The short answer is, probably not.

Although Al Jaber has called on countries and industry leaders to unite at COP28 in an agreement to ‘phase down’ fossil fuels, a unanimous agreement is unlikely.

China has already stated that it will not agree to a deal that uses the term ‘phase out’ – claiming it is “unrealistic” to eliminate fossil fuels as long as alternative energy sources and carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems remain underdeveloped and unproven at scale.

Instead, recent agreements, like the decision at COP26 in 2021 and G7 Summit in April 2023, have carefully referred to either ‘phasing down fossil fuels, or phasing out ‘unabated’ fossil fuels – the latter ambiguously referring to the burning of fossil fuels without any carbon capture systems in place.

In addition, the UN’s latest Production Gap report found that many countries, including the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and the U.S., plan to produce 110 percent more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be feasible if we are to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

All this suggests that major oil producing nations are likely to support agreements that focus on CCS, carbon credits and renewable energy rather than seeking to eliminate fossil fuels completely.

The U.S. and the E.U., for example, are already calling on other countries to join them in a pledge to triple renewable energy by 2030.

COP27 protesters
Climate demonstrators at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Friends of the Earth International, Flickr

How will civil society be involved at COP28?

In an open letter to the parties, the U.A.E. promised that COP28 will be the “most inclusive” COP ever, integrating the voices of youth, Indigenous Peoples, women and other activist groups throughout the talks.

The UN has released a full list of NGOs that have been admitted or provisionally admitted to the conference as observers, as well as a comprehensive list of resources for these organizations.

Last year, some activists were reportedly harrassed by security officers at COP27. To allay concerns, the U.A.E. has released a joint statement with the UNFCCC guaranteeing an inclusive and safe space for protesters to “assemble peacefully.”

Critics of recent COPs have also decried the ballooning number of oil, gas and coal representatives in attendance. Between 2021 and 2022, the number of COP delegates with links to fossil fuels jumped by 26 percent – and that number is expected to be even higher at COP28.

Al Jaber himself is the chief executive of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), which his supporters say makes him uniquely positioned to bring industry to the negotiating table, although climate activist groups argue his appointment represents a conflict of interest.

What’s happening with the Loss and Damage Fund?

Since the historic decision to create a Loss and Damage Fund at COP27, a Transitional Committee has been tasked with establishing a new funding mechanism ahead of COP28.

The term loss and damage’ recognizes that certain planetary boundaries have already been crossed, making some of the destruction due to climate change unavoidable. The fund therefore promises financial aid to poorer countries that are most affected by climate change.

Earlier this month, the final stage of negotiations ended in an agreement that the World Bank will host the fund for the first four years, after which it will need to find new financing from governments.

Although an agreement was reached, the meetings were rife with tension surrounding key issues such as who should pay the most, and whether contributions will be mandatory for certain countries. Notably, the U.S. has said it will not support mandatory contributions.

The newly minted funding mechanism will be up for final approval at COP28 and will require unanimous approval from wealthy and developing nations.

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