COP28: Issues and Expected Storylines

Abstract image for the COP28 UAW

COP28 Storylines

Last updated: November 20, 2023

The United Arab Emirates will host the 28th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai, from Thursday, Nov 30 to Tuesday, Dec 12, 2023. Global leaders, environmental advocates, the private sector, and stakeholders from every corner of the world will converge to deliberate on the pressing climate challenges and the path forward. 

This comes against the backdrop of a tense geopolitical situation where the international spirit of cooperation is under strain, coupled with a continued slump in the global economy.


An Intensifying Climate Crisis:

  • Even as the positive impact of the 2015 Paris Agreement is becoming evident, the world remains far off track in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The world is witnessing an increase in death and sickness, increased spread of diseases, crop loss leading to food insecurity and malnutrition, and impacts on mental health. 
  • 2023 was the worst year on record for billion-dollar climate disasters in the US, including Hawaiian wildfires that killed at least 115 people and the historic heatwave in Arizona. Globally, the year was marked by intensifying extreme weather, such as torrential rains in Libya and record-shattering heat in Europe.
  • September temperatures were 1.5°C above average and indicate that we continue to approach 1.5°C of global warming. However, we are still far short of 1.5°C of multi-decadal warming, the limit enshrined by the Paris Agreement. The IEA reports that the path to limiting warming to 1.5°C is narrow but still open.

Continued Fossil Fuel Expansion vs Astonishing Renewable Energy Progress:

  • Investment in unmitigated fossil fuel production by energy companies is projected to grow by over 6% in 2023, reaching USD 950 billion.
  • The US became the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter in 2022, with exports doubling over the past four years and approved upcoming projects expected to again double America’s LNG export capacity in the next four.  
  • At the same time, the ongoing and astonishing price revolution for renewable energy has (amazingly) kept the 1.5° goal within a reach that does not incur major short-term costs.
  • The price of solar has passed a tipping point, and solar is now on course to dominate global electricity markets even without new climate policies.

“This isn’t a climate conference for the faint-hearted,” said Richard Pearshouse, environment director at Human Rights Watch. 

Key Issues on the Negotiators’ Table:

  • The first Global Stocktake (GST): It is a centerpiece of COP28. The process provides a comprehensive assessment of progress since the Paris Agreement. The GST response (negotiated decision and political declaration) provides the chance to guide the national climate targets (NDCs) towards more ambitious 2030 & 2035 targets. Click here for a Global stocktake deeper dive.
  • Operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund: This remains vital as it would provide critical compensation to vulnerable nations experiencing climate impacts. With consensus reached on the recommendations of the Transitional Committee, they are now forwarded to COP28 for adoption, which would establish the fund. The capitalization of the fund will be the next big priority, with early and generous pledges from the developed countries. 
  • Progress on energy transition: A COP28 package must include pathways to accelerate the phaseout of all fossil fuels alongside tripling clean energy capacity by 2030 — without elevating false solutions and while providing adequate financing for implementation. Click here for a COP28 Oil and gas phaseout: Context and expectations deeper dive.
  • Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA): Agreement on a comprehensive GGA framework is essential. The framework must include targets and indicators for adaptation action, and means of implementation. 

Other Pertinent Discussions:

  • Health: The United Arab Emirates, host of the upcoming UN Climate Conference (COP28), have promised to deliver the first COP with a health focus. In addition to focusing attention on the existential human health risks of climate change, advocates are pointing out that a “Health COP” must deliver commitments that maximize the health gains that can be obtained from more aggressive mitigation and adaptation. Click here for a Health deeper dive.
  • Adaptation Funding: One major topic will be the consideration of a universal goal to boost financing for climate adaptation measures. The COP28 Presidency has urged developed nations to show progress on at least doubling adaptation finance by 2025.
  • Carbon Markets (Article 6): Delegates will further delve into the intricacies of utilizing carbon markets effectively.
  • Climate Finance: 
    • New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG): Talks this year will lay the groundwork for a new post-2025 global climate finance goal that will succeed the $100 billion commitment.
    • Finance Flows (Article 2.1c): While unclear whether it will be an agenda item, discussions are alive on what it means and ways to align all financial flows with emissions reduction and climate resilience, marking a transition towards sustainable investments and away from fossil fuels. Click here for a Finance deeper dive.
  • Food: COP28 presidency is leading on a Leaders Food Declaration, urging governments to commit to integrate Food and Agriculture into the next round of climate targets. Discussions during the GST will also offer opportunities to avoid trade-offs between climate action and action on nature.

The UAE and Undue Fossil Fuel Influence:

  • The UAE, known for its fossil fuel-driven economy, is at the forefront of global climate discussions as the host of COP28. While they have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 13% from 2023 levels by 2030, their oil and gas expansion plans risk undermining the target.
  • Sultan Al Jaber’s Dual Role: The appointment of Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), as the president of COP28 has stirred controversy. Notably, ADNOC, world’s 11th largest oil and gas company, is anticipated to invest over $1 billion each month in fossil fuels throughout this decade — nearly seven times its declared commitment to decarbonization projects in the same period.
  • Flashy Initiatives or Real Change: While Dr. Al Jaber has shown willingness to increase ambition, such as changing his stance to call for phasing down fossil fuels (albeit not phasing out), an ambitious COP28 outcome remains in question. This COP will include an expanded role for the fossil fuel industry, with Al Jaber suggesting cooperation between climate campaigners and fossil fuel companies is essential. And there remain concerns of how carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology could be held up as a solution, as concerns rise of the launch of a Oil & Gas Decarbonisation Accelerator that may prove to be a greenwashing exercise. 
  • Human Rights Concerns in the UAE: The Gulf nation’s track record on human rights, including the lack of political parties, suppression of dissent, curtailed freedom of speech, and the imprisonment of human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, remains under scrutiny. Major human rights organizations like Amnesty International have voiced these concerns in a letter to the UAE.

The United States at COP28:

  • The Inflation Reduction Act remains a key piece of legislation that the Biden administration will bring to COP28. While largely domestic, it has spurred international action as well
  • Strong attendance is expected from the Biden administration across various departments as well as a bipartisan delegation from Congress. Click here for information on the US Center pavilion. 
  • On negotiation issues:
    • US support for the Transitional Committee recommendations for the Loss and Damage Fund appears certain. Climate envoy John Kerry has indicated that “several millions” will be pledged. 
    • Alongside the EU and UAE, the US will be backing a global deal to triple renewable energy. It will likely also call for “phaseout of unabated fossil fuels” with a special emphasis on coal.
    • It will be pushing for economywide targets for 2035 NDCs. 
    • The second replenishment of the Green Climate Fund is underway and the US has yet to pledge more money. Here is a helpful tracker of US climate finance assistance so far. 
  • The All In Center will be hosting a series of events with a special focus on mayors and state leaders. See schedule here.