COP28: Your guide to the climate change conference in Dubai

The 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), better known as COP28, has been front and centre of the UAE’s news cycle for most of this year.

But what exactly is it and why is it a big deal that Dubai is hosting the event, which starts in less than a month? 

What is COP28?

COP is an annual gathering that unites countries across the globe to address the issue of climate change. The event acts as a global strategy meeting at which nations collaborate and discuss the best ways to combat climate change collectively. In essence, it is a platform for crafting global solutions to a global problem.

In his opening address to the 39th edition of ADIPEC Exhibition and Conference earlier in October, COP28 president-designate Dr Sultan Al Jaber called on the oil and gas industry to focus on decarbonization, and reminded everyone what it will take – a 43 percent reduction in emissions over the next seven years – to keep a 1.5 degree Celsius reduction within reach.

“That is our north star,” he said. “It is our only destination,” he said.

Dr Al Jaber said COP28 must serve as a catalyst to the intense effort and global collaboration that such a change will require.

“I urge everyone to make this commitment at COP28,” he said. “A COP where I am calling on everyone to set the highest ambitions, follow through with practical actions and deliver real results.”

Why is it important?

Climate change has reached a critical juncture, with record-breaking temperatures and unprecedented wildfires, floods, storms, and droughts worldwide. The world faces an urgent need to take action, and COP28 presents a vital opportunity to put our planet on a more sustainable path. Previous COP events have seen nations commit to reducing greenhouse gas emission, be better prepared for climate-related disasters, and pledge support to less privileged nations in their climate efforts. 

Why is it in the UAE?

COP takes place in a different city each year, with recent editions hosted in Madrid in 2019, Glasgow in 2021 and Sharm El Sheikh in 2022. COP28 in Dubai will be the first time the event has been hosted in the Gulf since 2012 and marks an opportunity for both the UAE and the wider region to demonstrate its progress in the sustainability space. Dubai’s selection as host underscores the UAE’s commitment to addressing climate change, as well as its role as a hub for sustainable development and advocate for climate solutions. 

Who is attending?

There are expected to be around 70,000 delegates. Traditionally the event attracts heads of state and government officials from across the globe, as well as business leaders and CEOs of major corporations, particularly those that champion sustainability. Leading climate scientists such as Dr Katharine Hayhoe and Dr Michael E. Mann, and influential activists such as Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate have previously attended. There is also a major segment of COP28 dedicated to youth delegates, in which young climate activists will discuss their concerns and ideas. 

What will be discussed?

The Paris Agreement, a binding set of emission targets that was signed by 196 nations at COP21 eight years ago, will be centre stage this year after the UNFCCC published its first ‘Global Stocktake’ (GST), analyzing how countries have progressed towards targets. Signatories pledged to work towards limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, as well as fostering climate resilience in a way that doesn’t threaten food production and making flows of finance fair in order to achieve these aims.

The GST recognizes that progress has been made, but also identifies key areas for further action to bridge gaps and address challenges, stressing that “much more is needed now on all fronts” and urging a focus on inclusion and equity. The report will frame discussions at COP28 and ultimately lead to a concluding declaration in Dubai that will identify opportunities, good practice and key political messages to take forward. 

Are there any other key themes?

Yes. COP28 will be built around four major themes, all related to the inaugural GST. The first is Fast-Tracking the Energy Transition and Emission Reductions, which tackles the demand for more robust policies around phasing out fossil fuels that ensuring energy security is guaranteed, especially in the global south. The second pillar is Delivering on Finance Promises and Rebuilding Climate Finance Climate, which focuses on the need to increase investment and fix the fragmented financial structure around global climate action that currently exists. 

Pillar three, Placing Nature, People, Lives, and Livelihoods at the Core of Climate Action, is designed to create better understanding of how those facing unmanageable climate impact can be supported. And finally, Mobilizing for an Inclusive COP, which aims to nurture collaboration with diverse groups, including women, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, youth, and subnational actors to generate climate solutions. 

What is the format?

COP28 will be split into two zones. The Blue Zone, managed by the UNFCCC, is exclusively for accredited parties (country negotiators), observer delegates (NGOs, IGOs, UN Agencies), media, and world leaders. It is the epicentre of formal negotiations spanning two weeks and hosts hundreds of official side events, including panel discussions and cultural events. 

The Green Zone, managed and delivered by COP28 UAE, is open to non-accredited delegates, such as youth groups, civil society, the private sector, and indigenous groups. The Green Zone provides a platform for these voices to be heard and fosters dialogue and awareness about climate action. Here, the private sector has the opportunity to showcase its contributions and solutions to the global climate challenge. There will be technical conferences, panels and activations focused on existing and future climate solutions. 

How can I get involved?

For those unable to secure a spot at COP28 there will also be a number of fringe events taking place around the UAE organized by climate-conscious individuals, businesses and organizations. While they will not officially be part of COP28, they will also contribute significantly to conversations about climate change. 

Why should I care?

Climate change effects all of us and while it may appear on the surface that COP28 is a complex gathering of climate experts and politicians, its purpose is to promote dialogue and to provoke clearer action on an issue that has far-reaching consequences. Ideally COP28 will spark more ambitious climate action plans, greater preparedness for climate disasters and unprecedented global co-operation that secures a more sustainable future for the planet. 

COP28 runs from November 30 to December 12, 2023 at Expo City, Dubai is for every body and mind in the UAE. This magazine is all about moderation, making small changes, little additions and the odd subtraction.



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