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Guide to COP28: What You Need to Know


Sunrise view of Downtown Dubai and Burj Khalifa.

COP28 is taking place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from November 30 to December 12, 2023, and some are saying it could be the most contentious COP in years. 

In this guide, we break down what COP28 is, what’s on the agenda, and why it’s become controversial. Let’s jump right in.

Why Is It Called COP28?

COP28 stands for the “28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”. Since this is quite a mouthful to say, it’s been shortened to simply COP28. 

What Is the COP28 Summit?

COP28 is an international climate conference that occurs as part of the framework of the 1992 treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It’s typically held annually and is a forum for world leaders to discuss issues related to climate change.

COP is attended by 198 Parties, which includes representation from 197 countries plus the European Union. At COP, these leader discuss a wide range of issues such as:

  • How to tackle climate change in an effective and coordinated manner
  • How to decrease emissions with the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels
  • How to drive progress to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement
  • How to adapt to the impacts of climate change
  • How to support vulnerable countries that have experienced, or are at risk of experiencing, devastating impacts of climate change

Attendees at COP also include participants from the private sector, civil society, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, industry groups, media and other climate change leaders, influencers and experts. With so many participants and topics discussed, COPs have become large and complex, spanning multiple weeks.

This year, COP is taking place at Expo City, Dubai in the UAE from November 30 to December 12, 2023. The location for each COP is determined by the UNFCCC secretariat, after countries put forth their offers to host. The selected host country typically rotates between the different regional groups of the UN:

  • The African Group
  • The Asia-Pacific Group
  • The Eastern Europe Group
  • The Latin American and Caribbean Group
  • The Western European and Others Group

What Are COP’s Blue and Green Zones?

Similar to previous COPs, COP28 is divided into two zones: the Blue Zone and the Green Zone. The Blue Zone refers to the space managed by the UNFCCC. It’s where accredited parties, observer delegates, world leaders, and the media come together to undertake official negotiations plus side events like panel discussions, speaking events, and cultural events.

The Green Zone refers to the space managed by the hosting country – in this case, the UAE Presidency. In the Green Zone, non-accredited delegates get together to promote awareness about climate change, participate in activations, and attend panel discussions. Non-accredited delegates include people from civil society, the private sector, youth groups, Indigenous groups, and more. The Green Zone is also where the private sector is able to showcase their solutions and innovations to climate change.

At each COP, a large number of “fringe” activities also occur. These are usually held by groups who weren’t able to secure space in the Green Zone and are not official COP events.

What’s on the COP28 Agenda?

This year, COP is following a thematic program, meaning each day has a different thematic focus.

COP28’s thematic days are:

  • Day 1 (November 30, 2023) – Opening Day
  • Day 2-3 (December 1-2) – World Climate Action Summit
  • Day 4 (December 3) – Health / Relief, Recovery and Peace
  • Day 5 (December 4) – Finance / Trade / Gender Equality / Accountability
  • Day 6 (December 5) – Energy and Industry / Just Transition, Indigenous Peoples
  • Day 7 (December 6) – Multilevel Action, Urbanization and Built Environment / Transport
  • Day 8 (December 7) – Day of Rest
  • Day 9 (December 8) – Youth, Children, Education and Skills
  • Day 10 (December 9) – Nature, Land Use and Oceans
  • Day 11 (December 10) – Food, Agriculture and Water
  • Day 12 (December 11-13) – Final Negotiations

This year, day 7 is particularly significant because it marks a halfway point. It’s the half-way point for the COP28 events, and it’s the half-way point for the global commitment. The Paris Agreement was signed 7 years ago and there are 7 years to go before we reach 2030, the year by which we must achieve critical climate targets.

Why Is There Controversy Over COP28?

Even before COP28 began, it was surrounded by controversy. As the days have gone on, various issues have threatened to derail the conversations. Here’s an overview of some of the key areas of controversy at COP28. 

1) COP28’s President Has Deep Ties to Oil

COP28’s President, Sultan al-Jaber, is also the chief executive of the UAE’s national oil company, ADNOC. UAE is the world’s seventh largest oil producer. Environmental advocates have called this a conflict of interest. 

Sultan al-Jaber was also in the spotlight when he made comments that there is “no science” behind the demand to phase out fossil fuels in pursuit of climate action. He later said his comments were misinterpreted. 

2) Climate Conditions Have Deteriorated

Not only has progress not been made since the Paris Agreement was signed, conditions have actually gotten worse. The World Meteorological Organization declared 2023 the warmest year recorded in human history and the UN Secretary General António Guterres said, “We are living through a climate collapse.” 

3) Fossil Fuel Production Is Set to Increase

Despite calls to curb fossil fuel production, scientific experts predict that by 2030, it will more than double. Specifically, major producers plan to produce about 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Moreover, despite 50 oil giants committing to cap methane emissions from their operations, none of them said they intend on cutting back oil and gas production.

Adding to this controversy, COP28 is being held in the OPEC region and, for the first time, the group will have its own pavilion space at the conference. 

4) Some Fear Greenwashing Is Occurring

Since their inception, reliance on carbon credits has been questioned. Carbon credits, put simply, allow corporations and sometimes countries to buy credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. However, some scientists have said that their benefits may be overstated and that they’ve become a passport to continue polluting. 

At COP28, the US introduced their new Energy Transition Accelerator for developing countries. This is one of several initiatives around the world aimed to revitalize the idea of carbon credits. However, environmental organizations say this is a case of greenwashing and an attempt to distract from a lack of real climate finance action. 

Key Outcomes From COP28

With over 97,000 participants at COP28, it’s safe to say that a lot has happened. Impossible to cover everything, here, we briefly summarize key highlights from official events.

Highlights From Week One

As showcased in the COP28 UAE Midpoint Summary, the following highlights happened in week one of COP28.

  • Energy Transition: The COP28 Presidency and partners launched the Global Decarbonization Accelerator (GDA), a cross-sectoral package to slash emissions to accelerate a just, equitable and orderly energy transition.
  • Methane Reduction: $1.2BN was mobilized to support the reduction of methane and other non-CO2 GHG across sectors. Governments and oil companies discussed effective pathways to zero methane emissions by 2030.
  • Decarbonization: The Oil & Gas Decarbonization Charter (OGDC) was endorsed by 52 companies across all continents.
  • Renewable Energy: 124 countries endorsed the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, committing to tripling renewables and doubling annual energy efficiency improvements by 2030. $5BN was mobilized to facilitate the implementation of the pledge globally.
  • Climate Cooling: 65 countries endorsed the Global Cooling Pledge and committed to reducing cooling-related emissions across all sectors by at least 68% by 2050 versus 2022 levels. 
  • Climate Finance: 12 countries launched a new vision for climate finance through the COP28 UAE Declaration of Leaders on a Global Climate Finance Framework, which summarizes the need for collective action, opportunity for all, and delivering at scale.
  • Food Security: 146 Heads of State and Government endorsing the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action to address food’s high vulnerability to climate impacts and its contribution to emissions. 
  • Health: 133 countries endorsed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health, and finance providers mobilized an initial tranche of $2.6BN for climate and health solutions.
  • Vulnerable Communities: 75 governments and 42 organizations endorsed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery, and Peace, which gives political visibility to communities that are experiencing extreme vulnerability, fragility, and conflict.
  • Gender Equity: 74 countries endorsed the COP28 UAE Gender-Responsive Just Transitions & Climate Action Partnership, which aims to mainstream women’s leadership, decision making, and financing for a just transition.
  • Children and Youth: A Global Youth Statement was delivered as part of the first Youth and Education session, giving greater visibility and voice to children and youth. 

Highlights from Week Two

In week two, conversations continued, with the following points to note.

  • Youth, Children, Education and Skills: 38 countries signed the UNESCO Greening Education Partnership, Declaration on the common agenda for education and climate change at COP28. Additionally, The Youth Stocktake Report was officially launched by YOUNGO with support from the Youth Climate Champion.
  • Nature, Land Use and Oceans: 21 countries endorsed the science-based Mangrove Breakthrough target. 
  • Food, Agriculture and Water: Additional countries stepped up to endorse the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, bringing the total to 154. 
  • Negotiations: 2 days of final negotiations were held, where parties had their voices heard on a wide range of issues.
  • UAE Consensus: 198 parties united behind the UAE Consensus, a package to accelerate climate action.

What’s Next: Looking Ahead to COP29 and COP30

With COP28 coming to a close, the world is wondering what’s next. Will momentum continue? Will commitments be met? Will change actually occur?

Next year’s COP29 will likely be held in Azerbaijan, another country that’s heavily dependent on oil and gas production. In fact, these exports make up 90% of their economy. This has some advocates feeling skeptical. 

COP30 is set to take place in Brazil in the Amazonian city of Belém do Pará. Brazil has struggled with deforestation in the past but is taking actions to reverse that.

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