One week to go: What can the UAE do to make Cop28 a success?

UAE presidency will aim to secure consensus against a backdrop of rising temperatures and geopolitical tensions when talks get under way

Cop28 runs from November 30 to December 12 in Dubai. Reuters
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There is only a week to go until the Cop28 climate conference gets under way in Dubai.

The summit – being held from November 30 to December 12 – comes at the end of a year in which global temperatures have soared, extreme weather events have wreaked havoc and the UN has warned that the key 1.5ºC threshold is slipping out of reach.

And this has all come during a period of major geopolitical tension, from Ukraine to Gaza.

The UAE now has the task of trying to find consensus among close to 200 countries that will meet at Cop28 against this backdrop.

UN chief calls for 'pivotal' Cop28 as global warming effects intensify

UN chief calls for 'pivotal' Cop28 as global warming effects intensify

The backdrop to Cop28

Since the first Cop in 1995, the summits have changed from small, technical gatherings into major events. But the aim is the same: to drive momentum to tackle climate change.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President-designate, has spent much of the year on what was described as a global listening tour to build momentum and ensure a smooth conference.

“You must listen to everyone,” said Moustafa Bayoumi, climate change research fellow at the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi. “Not just the parties, but the position of non-government bodies, companies, youths, indigenous people and more.”

Earlier this month Dr Al Jaber urged countries to “have the difficult conversations now” to ensure talks can begin immediately on November 30 without any delays.

“If we succeed in coming together now, we have a huge opportunity before us,” he said. “We can reimagine entire economies and put every nation on the path to a prosperous and sustainable future. So let’s unite, let’s act and let’s deliver in Dubai.”

The UAE role during Cop28

The presidency’s role varies from formal tasks such as declaring the opening and closing of sessions to providing leadership. The UNFCCC, the UN’s climate change body, also helps to ensure that procedure is followed.

During the final few days, the presidency plays an increasingly active role when talks can drag on into the night, tempers fray and negotiators get mired in detail.

“The level of intervention [from a Cop presidency] is going to be on how much political capital they have,” Mr Bayoumi said. “How much do the parties trust them to take this forward?”

Mr Bayoumi said there were positive signs, such as the framework deal on loss and damage agreed in Abu Dhabi last month that could set the stage at Cop28 for the fund to come into operation. But it was very hard to speculate on what might happen during the summit, where challenges in one negotiation track can affect others.

“For example, when finance negotiations are not going well there could be a slowdown in other negotiation rooms," Mr Bayoumi said. "If there is no money it is hard to agree on mitigation, adaptation and so on.”

Does the UAE negotiate?

The UAE stays neutral and does not negotiate. However, hosts can help steer the conversation. Mr Bayoumi pointed to Cop27 in Egypt where the loss and damage fund was first created.

“I would argue it would have been unlikely to have an agreement on loss and damage if this Cop was hosted in a developed country,” he said.

“Egypt was hosting Cop27 on behalf of the African continent. And they wanted to focus on a topic of concern for African countries.”

How will Dubai be remembered?

At Cop21 in 2015, the landmark Paris agreement was signed in which leaders agreed to “pursue efforts” to limit global temperature increases to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. Conversely, talks at Cop15 in Copenhagen in 2009 were chaotic and it ended with only an acknowledgement of a deal struck by five nations, led by the US.

The difference between success and failure can hinge on how the presidency approaches the negotiating text that will form the “cover decision” typically issued at the end of the summit or other agreements.

“If the text feels like it is landing from the sky, no one will agree and that’s what happened in Copenhagen,” Mr Bayoumi said. “The text suggested was not building on what was being negotiated. The text was quite good and provided the basis of much of what was agreed in Paris. But the parties felt that this did not represent them.

“On the other hand, what the French presidency did very well … is that they always made sure the text was building on what was being negotiated.

”It is very important to have a good outcome on the global stocktake at Cop28 so we can for ever say it was achieved in Dubai," he added, referring to how, at Cop28, the first assessment of how the world is measuring up to the Paris deal will take place.

Will there be a positive outcome?

Aisha Al Sarihi, research fellow on the policy and politics of climate and environment at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, said the UAE would want a successful outcome for “legacy reasons” and would be keen to see progress on the 1.5ºC goal, loss and damage and the $100 billion annual finance goal from developed to developing countries that was pledged in 2009.

“I expect the … presidency will emphasise on ensuring a just energy transition to keep 1.5ºC within reach, a goal that might be appealing and will receive support from the majority of country delegations, especially developing, least developed and small island countries,” she said.

“The UAE would want to use its credentials, as both a wealthy nation classified as [a] developing country, to leave a legacy in building the trust between developed and developing countries.”

Mr Bayoumi said that while the outcome was always very hard to anticipate and things can change quickly, the UAE had put in a lot of effort.

“There are high expectations because the UAE is one of the few countries that can talk to all,” he said. "And in some ways can forge consensus.”

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Updated: November 24, 2023, 5:21 AM