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What should we expect from the COP28 Summit in Dubai?

What is COP28? What issues does COP28 aim to address? And why is the event already mired in controversy?
Ecology News
view over the city of Dubai

On November 30th, 70,000 participants, made up of heads of states, government officials, climate experts, and leaders of global industrial sectors, will descend upon Dubai (United Arab Emirates) to attend COP28 (the 28th session of the Conference of Parties). It’s a chance for global leaders to discuss and find solutions to climate change - the biggest challenge of this century.

However, the conference is already off to a rocky start with the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber as COP28 President-Designate. The fact that Sultan Al Jabar is the Emirati Minister of Industry and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) has garnered criticism from climate activists, and sparked calls for him to relinquish his role. 

👉 What is COP28? What issues does COP28 aim to address? And why is the event already mired in controversy?

What is COP28?

COP28 is the 28th session of the Conference of Parties - in other words the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference. COP has been running since 1995 and is held every year as an opportunity for signatories to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to discuss and find solutions to climate change - the biggest challenge of this century.

The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is an agreement between UN member states to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system.

COP functions as the decision-making body of the UNFCCC, and is made up of all 199 signatories to the UNFCCC. At each COP event, signatories are able to review and assess the measures they’ve introduced, and to discuss global solutions to climate change. 

Perhaps the most notable outcome of any COP is the Paris Agreement, which was agreed at COP21 in 2015. The landmark deal was signed by 195 parties (out of 199) who agreed to reduce global levels of greenhouse gas emissions and to keep global surface temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (and ideally within 1.5 degrees Celsius) so as to prevent dangerous climate change. 

The Paris Agreement marked the beginning of a global transition towards net zero emissions and has spurred national governments across the world to take strong action to reduce their emissions and decarbonize their economies. Each annual COP offers renewed hope that governments will double down and strengthen their commitment to the fight against climate change.

What were the main takeaways from the previous conference - COP27?

COP27 marked the 27th session of the Conference of Parties. Held in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, the conference brought together over 35,000 people from across the world to discuss global warming and climate change. 

COP27 was seen as an opportunity to advance discussions from previous conferences, however, it also resulted in a historic advancement of its own. Let’s take a look at the most significant takeaways of COP27.

The creation of a Loss and Damage Fund

Undoubtedly, the crowning achievement of COP27 is the decision to create a fund for responding to loss and damage resulting from climate change. After decades of calls for such a fund from climate-vulnerable countries, it marks an important milestone that will help to address the geographic imbalance between the cause and effect of climate change.  

Developing countries are the most affected by climate change, yet contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions. Africa in particular contributes the least to climate change yet is particularly vulnerable to the effects. It’s estimated that they will need to spend as much as 5 times more on adapting to the effect of global warming than they will spend on healthcare.

The Loss and Damage Fund is primarily aimed at helping developing countries (who are usually the most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of global warming), and is intended to cover the cost of damage caused by natural disasters related to global warming - for example, wildfires, rising sea levels, heatwaves, drought, crop failure etc. 

As the poorest countries are only marginally responsible for climate change, it was agreed that the richest countries should participate in financing their climate debt. Without the Loss and Damage fund, developing countries have often been left with no other option but to borrow money to mitigate the consequences of extreme climatic climate events (a problem they barely contributed to).

👉 Did you know? 10% of the world’s richest households are responsible for 40% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and 1% of the richest households emit as much as the poorest half of humanity.

man crouching on the porch of his flooded house

No new measures were introduced to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

COP26, which was held in Glasgow was largely seen as a success on account of the renewed commitments by signatory governments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Building on the Paris accord, the Paris Rulebook (which isn’t legally binding) laid out timeframes for emissions reductions targets. Additionally, 190 countries agreed to the phasing out of coal for energy production, which is expected to mean a 76% drop in the number of planned new coal power plants.

It was hoped that COP27 would build on this success and push targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even further. Especially since the current commitments of signatories to the Paris Agreement don’t go far enough to successfully limit global warming to under 1.5 degrees celsius (vs. 1990s levels).

And while the final agreement did mention “the urgent need for deep, rapid and sustained reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions’, sadly, participants failed to reach any agreement on new ambitions to reduce gas emissions.

If we’re going to be able to achieve the target of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees celsius, IPCC experts have warned that we will need to achieve a 43% reduction in global emissions by 2030, and 84% by 2050.

Failure to move away from fossil fuels

However, the biggest failure of COP27 is undoubtedly the lack of commitment to phase out fossil fuels. India proposed a complete phase-out of all fossil fuels however, COP27 came up empty handed on this issue. 

Instead of committing to the phase out of fossil fuels - something that is essential if we’re going to have any chance of reaching net zero emissions - signatories instead simply restated the need to “accelerate efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” 

Many (quite rightly) were not only disappointed by the lack of commitment to end fossil fuel reliance, but were also concerned by the wording used in this statement. The wording leaves gaps for workarounds. For example ‘unabated coal use’ leaves the possibility of continued coal use where emissions can be offset with carbon capture technology. And ‘inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’ raises questions based on the interpretation of the term ‘inefficient’.

Why did COP27 fall short on some topics?

COP27 was somewhat overshadowed by the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has strained energy supplies, forcing many countries to expand their domestic fossil fuel reserves.

World leaders, concerned about rising energy prices and the growing cost of living crisis, were hesitant to make any bold commitments to phase out fossil fuel use. Essentially this resulted in a watered-down commitment to simply ‘boost low emission and renewable energy’. 

Not only this, but the timing of the conference resulted in distraction. It took place only one week ahead of the US midterm elections, coincided with the G20 summit in Bali, and the Qatar World Cup was also just about to start. The lack of a singular focus on the issues of climate change may have played some part in the outcome of the conference. 

These observations provide some learnings for the upcoming COP in Dubai at the end of 2023. So what can we expect from this year's conference?

sunset view over Dubai city and skyscrapers

What are the challenges of the Dubai Conference (COP28)?

Loss and Damage Fund

While the Loss and Damage Fund can undoubtedly be heralded as a win for low-income countries that feel the brunt of climate change, the details on how the fund will function leave a lot to be desired. No agreement was reached on how large the funding stream would be, who would be responsible for paying what, and who would be eligible to receive funding. 

At COP27, a transitional committee was established, which is expected to make recommendations on how to organize the functioning of COP28. Experts have warned that we shouldn’t be too quick to claim the fund as a big win because a lot will depend on how quickly it is able to get up and running, and how effectively it is able to function.

firemen standing in the wreckage of a forest fire

Climate finance

In 2009, at COP15 in Copenhagen, developed countries committed to a collective goal of mobilizing 100 billion USD per year by 2020. The money is intended for climate action and mitigation efforts in developing countries. 

However, developed nations have a tarnished track record of failing to meet these annual funding goals. In 2020, adaptation funding fell short of the 100 billion target, at only 83.3 billion USD.

The lack of commitment to funding pledges is creating an atmosphere of mistrust amongst COP signatories - something that needs to be addressed. The fight against climate change must be carried out in an equitable manner, otherwise, we risk increasing global inequalities.

According to the IPCC synthesis report, it is essential that we prioritize equality, climate justice, social justice, inclusion and fair transition processes in order to enable successful adaptation, mitigation and climate resilient development.

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels have been mentioned many times at previous conventions, but they remain a touchy subject. Yet, the fact remains that it is absolutely essential that we eliminate their use in order to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. 

❗️The production of oil, natural gas and coal is responsible for as much as 79% of total emissions worldwide. Yet, despite the harmful impact of fossil fuels, only the phasing out of coal was the subject of a commitment at COP27.

factories and power plants releasing pollution into the air

Global Stocktake

Established by the Paris Agreement, the Global Stocktake is intended to “assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement and its long-term goals”. Ie. It will evaluate the progress of signatories at an overall global level, and identify trends that should inform countries’ national climate commitments (NCC), which must be updated every 5 years. 

The Global Stocktake is an opportunity, not only to help countries form their NCCs, but also to influence broader, global climate action. Based on science and extensive research, the Global Stocktake can help to influence future climate policy and investment decisions.

Why is COP28 already being criticized?

The appointment of Sultan Al Jaber as President-Designate

The appointment of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber as President-Designate of COP28 was seen as a deeply controversial decision. Not only is Al Jaber the UAE minister for industry and advanced technology, he’s perhaps better known as being the chief executive of the UAE's national oil company, ADNOC - one of the world's largest oil and gas producers. 

Even more controversial is the fact that ADNOC is planning a large-scale expansion of oil and gas operations (ADNOC recently received permission from OPEC to start producing more oil in 2024), leaving many wondering how Al Jaber can effectively function as President-Designate of COP28 with such split priorities. 

The Executive Director of Climate Action Network International, Tasneem Essop, has been quoted as saying:

He [Al Jaber] cannot preside over a process that is tasked to address the climate crisis with such a conflict of interest, heading an industry that is responsible for the crisis itself.

Yet despite this quite glaring conflict of interest, Al Jaber insists that he’s the man for the job. He voiced his intentions to focus talks at COP28 on how the private sector can help to limit greenhouse gas emissions, stating “We need a major course correction and a massive effort to reignite progress. This cannot be done by governments alone.” 

Al Jaber intends to inject a business mindset into talks, inviting oil and gas companies from around the world to participate. He has promised an ambitious action-oriented agenda and has voiced his hope for a collective pledge to triple renewable energy by 2030.

Responding to critics of his appointment, Al Jaber has also referenced the fact that the UAE - which has traditionally been a heavy producer of fossil fuels - has successfully diversified its GDP so that 75% of it now comes from other (non-oil based) sources. This provides a great example and motivator for other oil-producing countries. 

And it seems that some do actually agree that Al Jaber could in fact be an asset. Commentators point out that fuel-producing countries need to be given a seat at the table if we’re to have any hope of effecting rapid change.

Still, there's no denying that mistrust between the two sides runs deep. In fact, earlier this year organizers of COP28 were accused of 'greenwashing' when automated Twitter accounts were found to be promoting the environmental credentials of the UAE.

A COP28 spokesperson denied the allegations, claiming that outside actors wishing to discredit the climate conference were responsible.

More recently the UAE has come under fire after leaked documents revealed "COP28 UAE key messages" which included no mention of fossil fuels or oil and gas. This is seen to be problematic as eliminating fossil fuels is the most critical action that is needed to reduce emissions and reach net zero.

The United Arab Emirates - a country of contrast

The UAE has historically been heavily reliant on the production and export of oil. Something that doesn’t seem to show any signs of abating.

We’ve already touched on how Adnoc, the UAE’s national oil and gas company, is undergoing expansion which will result in a significant increase in oil and gas production. So much oil in fact, that if the UAE were to meet the International Energy Agency’s net zero scenario, 90% of the barrels of oil produced by the company would need to stay in the ground!

And yet, the UAE was also the first country in the Middle East to announce a strategic Net Zero initiative. It’s also been increasingly investing in renewable energy.  

It’s a land of contrast. But perhaps the rationale behind this can best be summed up by the President-Designate himself:

Policymakers are beginning to understand that the energy transition will not happen with the flip of a switch. You need to maintain the current system, while the world still relies on it, and drive down its emissions, while driving up investment in new energies.

But the question remains, does a pragmatic and business oriented approach deliver the rapid and large scale action that we urgently need to prevent climate breakdown in time?

What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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