This year’s UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as the Conference of the Parties (COP), is poised to be the largest gathering to date. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), serving as the host country, anticipates welcoming more than seventy thousand attendees. This diverse assembly will encompass government officials, business tycoons, youth activists, representatives from Indigenous communities, as well as lobbyists and delegates from fossil fuel companies, whose presence has notably increased in recent meetings. At the preceding COP27 in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, the number of delegates from fossil fuel industries exceeded the delegation sizes of many individual countries. Notably, alterations to the COP registration now require participants to disclose their affiliations with the represented organizations, seen by some watchdog groups as a modest step toward enhancing transparency.
Among the distinguished attendees at COP28 are U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry and China’s Special Representative on Climate Change Xie Zhenhua, representing the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. Preceding the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November, the U.S. and China committed to accelerating their efforts to curtail methane emissions and other greenhouse gases, reestablishing a working group focused on climate collaboration. Experts predict that the prevailing challenges in the U.S.-China relationship will establish the foundation for climate agreements at COP28.
Dubai will host COP28 under the guidance of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of the UAE’s state-owned oil company. The UAE aims to position itself as a front-runner in combatting climate change, yet faces criticism for its perceived reluctance to take decisive action in “phasing out” fossil fuels.
Al Jaber assured that protesters would be allowed entry into the country. Nevertheless, many activists remain apprehensive about the potential for arbitrary detentions. According to the U.S.-based human rights watchdog group Freedom House, the UAE’s restrictions on civil liberties and lack of political rights have categorized it as “not free.”
This year’s summit will signify the culmination of the inaugural global stocktake, a two-year evaluation tracking progress toward the commitments outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. Participating nations aim to operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund, established during the previous COP, designed to provide crucial financial aid to nations most susceptible to climate change impacts.
The UAE has outlined four key pillars for COP28:
- Energy Transition: A coalition comprising over sixty countries, led by the United States and the EU, seeks to advocate tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030. This initiative involves collaborating with high-emission sectors to scale up decarbonization technology, expanding low-carbon hydrogen, expediting carbon capture and storage, and eliminating methane emissions.
- Climate Finance: Inadequate investments remain a significant hurdle for climate action. Despite a 22 per cent increase in renewable energy investments (totalling $358 billion) in the first half of 2023 compared to the previous year’s commencement, it falls far short of the $4 to $6 trillion annually required, as per the United Nations, to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. COP28 aims to mobilize multilateral development banks to incentivize private sector investments in climate-related projects, enhance accountability measures for achieving net-zero commitments, and establish uniform standards for voluntary carbon markets amid concerns about fraudulent carbon offset programs.
- Climate Adaptation and Resilience: A focal point will be strengthening climate resilience and sustainable development in lower-income countries. Commitments include strategies to combat biodiversity loss, adopt sustainable farming methods, and resolve pending details about the Loss and Damage Fund’s financing mechanisms and eligibility criteria for accessing support.
- Inclusivity: Building on the establishment of a “youth envoy” at COP27, this year’s conference seeks to further amplify the voices of young people, Indigenous and local leaders, and gender minorities. Recognizing their vulnerability to climate change effects, the conference will invite youth delegates from island nations and lower-income countries to participate in the discussions.
This multifaceted approach underscores the breadth of discussions and commitments expected at COP28, where global leaders and stakeholders converge to address the urgent climate crisis.