From Bill Gates to King Charles: Who and what to look out for at Cop28

The crucial summit starts on November 30 – who are the key players and what will they be talking about?

Britain's King Charles III is expected to address the summit. Getty Images
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UN climate summits can be complex affairs, but there are often standout moments that cut through the days and nights of fraught negotiations.

Cop21 in 2015, for example, led to the Paris agreement, but previously, Cop15 in Copenhagen in 2009 was a tense affair and did not end in consensus.

So what are the key things to look out for at Cop28?

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

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

The global stocktake

Expect to hear a lot about this over the next few days. The “global stocktake” is essentially the first assessment of how the world is doing under the Paris Agreement.

The 2015 deal saw leaders agree to “pursue efforts” to try to limit global temperatures from rising 1.5ºC on pre-industrial levels.

The world is way off track from this goal and heading for warming of 3ºC, which would mean billions of people could be affected by extreme heat and humidity. Countries are expected to respond to this at Cop28 and chart a way to get back on track.

Loss and damage

The contentious loss and damage fund was created at Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh last year but key questions were left to be agreed on in Dubai. Difficult talks about who pays into it, which countries receive money and where the fund should be hosted continued all year with a framework deal only secured during an extra round of talks held in Abu Dhabi this month.

Still, this was viewed as a success and now leaders will try to bring the fund into formal operation during Cop28. Loss and damage is a broad term but is considered to be financial assistance for vulnerable countries hit by the worst effects of climate change.

The key element is money – billions of dollars are said to be needed – so expect considerable wrangling about this during the summit.

What is Cop28?

What is Cop28?

King Charles

Cop28 organisers are expecting more than 70,000 people, from activists to billionaires, but some will attract more attention than others.

Pope Francis was originally meant to attend before cancelling on Tuesday night but the UK’s King Charles III will be there.

King Charles, an outspoken proponent of the environment for years, did not appear at Cop27 but this year he is expected to make an impassioned call to action.

US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will miss the summit but their envoys, John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, will be there. UN chief Antonio Guterres will also attend, as well as President Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and UN climate chief Simon Stiell.

We can also expect to see billionaire Bill Gates, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate and scores of others from royalty to youth activists.

Impact on health and food

Cop28 will have days dedicated to different themes including the first in-depth look at the impact of the climate crisis on health.

Rising temperatures mean more heatwaves, and harsher summers, especially in the Gulf, that are pushing the limits of human endurance along with pressure on water supplies, more demand for cooling and increases in diseases such as dengue fever.

The summit will also take a look at the impact on the world’s food systems.

Kaveh Zahedi, director of the office of climate change, biodiversity and environment at the Food and Agriculture Organisation, told The National in August that food was an “existential issue”. The food sector is believed to be responsible for about 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions yet production is also affected by warming temperatures.

Mr Zahedi said he wanted to see solutions rather than problems at Cop28. The FAO is expected to set out solutions during the summit while leaders will be asked to sign up to the “Emirates Declaration” that will seek to encourage countries to link agricultural policies to emissions.

Fossil fuels: phase out or phase down?

How the world will end its use of fossil fuels, the main contributor to climate change, is expected to dominate the talks. Some parties prefer a complete “phase out” of fossil fuels, others want a “phase down”, while some want the term “unabated” added in, meaning they could be used with carbon capture and storage methods.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President-designate, has said a phase down of fossil fuels is “inevitable and essential”.

At Cop26 in Glasgow, parties agreed to phase down coal but fossil fuels were not addressed at Cop27 last year – so what might be agreed to at Cop28 is far from certain.

Other key areas to watch

Cop28 is being staged at Expo City Dubai and will feature a comprehensive public programme featuring talks, film screenings and even musicals. What is also expected is a significant amount of initiatives to be announced or scaled up by the Cop28 presidency during the summit separate to the negotiated talks.

One is Dr Al Jaber’s “decarbonisation alliance”, which seeks to rally oil companies to reduce their emissions, while another will see the UAE try to ramp up efforts to cut down on methane.

Another is expected to be the “Emirates Declaration” on food, expected to be unveiled on December 1. But expect to see a lot more.

Updated: November 29, 2023, 11:57 AM