The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) will take place from 30th November – 12th December 2023 in Expo City, Dubai. Marked as the ‘halfway point’ between the Paris Agreement in 2015 and the climate target deadlines set for 2030, the world is expecting clear progress from COP28.
Last year, at COP27 in Egypt, we saw the historic creation of the Loss and Damage Fund. However, overall progress was limited and little action was taken towards the phasing out of fossil fuels. You can read more about COP27 in our round up article here.
Last year’s conference was also marked by António Guterres’ (Secretary General of the United Nations) stark comments – “Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish. It is either a climate solidarity pact – or a collective suicide pact.”
With continued worldwide catastrophes caused by climate change and global warming threatening to exceed 1.5 degrees as soon as 2029, the stakes have never been higher. Will COP28 be the conference to deliver the change needed?
In this article, the Institute will explore the themes and aims of the conference and more generally what we might expect from the discussions, as well as controversies that threaten to stand in the way of progress on climate goals.
Ahead of COP28, there have been two key events that have helped to set the tone for the conference and provide an idea of what to expect in December.
Ministerial on Climate Action (MoCA)
The first of these was the two-day MoCA held in Brussels in July 2023. The event was hosted by the EU, Canada and China and was attended by ministers from G20 countries.
Here they made mention of the ‘first global stocktake’ which promises to be an important part of the COP28 discussions. Other priorities highlighted during the meeting included: financial progress (relating specifically to the loss and damage fund and the annual $100 billion climate finance goal), adaptation and mitigation. 
Finance, adaptation and mitigation have formed a key part of discussions in many previous conferences. However, the global stocktake will add a new emphasis to these subjects; it will aim to fully assess collective progress on climate goals since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 and ‘send strong political signals’ to speed up action. The stocktake will be comprehensive, drawing on over 1600 documents from a wide range of sources and communities and will conclude its findings during COP28.
The second event took place at the end of October in Abu Dhabi, just one month ahead of the launch of COP28. This was designed as a preparatory meeting ahead of the actual conference, to ensure that discussions can start immediately on 30th November.
During the event, IRENA and Global Renewables Alliance published a joint report which was supported by the COP Presidency. In this report they provided policy recommendations for tripling the amount of renewable energy and doubling levels of energy efficiency worldwide.
In conjunction, Ministers also discussed the topic of a phase-out of fossil fuels and particularly the language that should be used at COP28 surrounding this. A ‘phase out of unabated fossil fuels’ was the terminology used, which some critics have argued leaves loopholes for oil and gas companies to exploit. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see discussions about phasing out ahead of the conference, especially after the lack of agreement on this topic at COP27.
Aims of the Conference
The COP Presidency has stated acceleration will be a key aim at the conference. As part of their ‘plan of action’ they have included language such as ‘fast-track’ in their communications and supported drastically reducing emissions by 2030.
“COP28 presents an opportunity to fast-track the energy transition by building the energy system of the future, while rapidly decarbonizing the energy system of today to keep 1.5°C within reach. Phasing down demand for, and supply of, all fossil fuels is inevitable and essential. Strengthened policies to achieve this goal are required…The world must urgently accelerate the energy transition in an orderly, just and equitable way … As the COP Presidency, we are putting forward a vision based on what we know is possible and aligned both with the sustainable economic interests of countries, communities, non-state actors and a cleaner, greener world.”Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, President Designate for COP28 UAE
This should be viewed positively, as it often feels that the shift away from fossil fuels is progressing particularly slowly. The same actions and targets have been discussed at multiple COPs, over many years, yet we see no real progress being made. For example, while the Loss and Damage Fund was agreed in a historic decision one year ago at COP27, the fund is yet to deliver any economic aid to countries and further discussions on this are required at this year’s conference. Whether COP28 manages to push progress forward will remain to be seen.
This has been announced as a ‘pivotal cross-cutting theme’ for COP28, that will ‘help build the foundation for a finance system of the future.’ Day 5 of the conference on December 5th, will focus on finance, trade and accountability. However, this is not out of the ordinary as finance usually makes up a large proportion of the discussions.
As mentioned previously, the COP Presidency has placed an emphasis on the Loss and Damage Fund specifically. It is hoped that any final red tape will be removed by the end of the conference to allow the fund to start distributing finances shortly afterwards.
The Presidency also aims to ensure the agreed annual $100 billion is provided in climate aid to developing countries. This is entirely separate to the Loss and Damage fund and was a target initially set for 2020; so far it has failed to provide the sums agreed.
It is positive to see the conference pointing towards specific actions relating to finance, as this is so crucial for the global energy transition. However, with the global economic situation not much improved from last year, there are still significant hurdles in place to achieve these financial targets.
Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber goes as far as to say inclusivity will be the ‘foundation of (the) COP Presidency’ and commits to providing a safe place for all delegates to air their views. The Conference agenda focuses on a number of different communities throughout its 13-day run. On day 5 they will look at gender equality, on day 6 the focus will be on indigenous peoples and then youth on day 9.
A Youth Climate Champion, with significant influence, has been created for this conference to act as the voice of the younger generation, especially representing young people in indigenous communities, communities at risk from climate change and people with disabilities. H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of Community Development, will be the first-ever Youth Climate Champion with a Ministerial role.
What’s at Stake?
These aims, and those agreed at previous COPs, generally all contribute to the same main goal; to stop the acceleration of global warming and reduce the impact of climate change going forward.
Recently there have been a lot of studies and much debate over how likely it is that we will be able to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees. Some research has suggested we are likely to surpass this level temporarily (temperatures are expected to peak above 1.5 degrees but reduce again) and others have argued that it is not possible to meet the target based on our current rate of action.
A recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that while the chance to limit global warming is reducing steadily, the chances of meeting the target are still in reach if we implement greater ambition and global co-operation.
As well as climate issues, the world is still experiencing instability and price fluctuations as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine affecting gas supplies. However, the effects of this are felt mainly on fossil fuel prices and availability. Therefore, by increasing available amounts of renewable energy this can help to mitigate these issues, restore balance to the global energy supply and stabilise prices.
Subsequently, there is a lot of pressure on the discussions at COP28 to solve the issues mentioned above. Outwith the conference, there are fewer opportunities to have such wide ranging and collaborative discussions. As such, COP28 is our main chance to make progress on climate issues over the next year.
Often, COPs are plagued by certain controversies that threaten to diminish the authority of the conference. For example, last year the choice to make Coca-Cola a sponsor of the event, as well as questions over human rights abuses in Egypt, raised serious concerns ahead of and throughout the talks. This year is no different and COP28 has already ignited controversy, ahead of the event in two major ways.
Oil and Gas Corporations
Firstly, the COP President, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, is also the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc). Adnoc takes millions of barrels of oil each day from the earth and furthermore, they have plans to increase their activities considerably in the near future rather than ‘phase down.’The company reportedly plans to invest $150 billion in order to expand the number of barrels of oil extracted each day by 600,000. More widely, the United Arab Emirates has a long history as oil and gas exporters.
This calls into question whether the COP President and the hosting country are truly invested in reducing the use of fossil fuels. In turn, this has resulted in certain commentators, such as former UN Chief Christiana Figueres, to argue that oil companies should not be allowed to participate in the COP28 talks.
However, Al-Jaber is also the founder of a renewable energy company, Masdar, which develops renewable energy projects across the globe. Furthermore, the Presidents ‘letter to the parties’ does seem to push for faster action on climate issues. The impact of this controversy on the discussions will therefore only become apparent at the discussions themselves.
Freedom of Speech
The U.A.E has also faced mounting criticism from other countries, regarding its stance on human rights and freedom of speech. Ahead of the conference, the U.A.E has been asked to change its laws to align with international human rights law, however, it has refused to do so.
The COP Presidency has stated there will be ‘designated areas’ for free speech and protest at the conference as part of their aim to make this COP inclusive. However, the limited nature of their assurances does create significant worries ahead of the discussions, in which protest and free speech plays a key role.
Despite these controversies, COP28’s aims have been set out clearly and appear to address a number of stumbling blocks that have previously impeded climate progress. Pre-COP events have backed this up in calling for a massive increase in use of renewable energy and a phase down of fossil fuels. In theory, with a focus on acceleration and with finances in place to help the global energy transition, we should see tangible progress. However, time will tell whether all nations will be able to agree on the actions needed and whether the presence of oil and gas companies will have a negative effect.
Keep an eye on the REI’s website and social media channels throughout the conference as we keep you up to date with key discussions and decisions. Make sure to sign up for our post-COP roundtable event where our panel of experts will be discussing the outcomes and what they mean for the renewable energy sector.