Behind closed doors: What is really happening at Cop28?

Intensive talks are going on between nearly 200 countries. Here's why they matter

Cop 28, which is being held at Expo City Dubai, runs until December 12. Mahmoud Khaled / Cop 28
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Amid all the VIPs, royalty and announcements, it is easy to forget that intense negotiations involving about 200 countries are taking place at Cop 28.

They happen in conference rooms closed off to the public and will ramp up significantly until December 12.

In classic UN parlance, this is known as the negotiated outcome, while the separate side deals and announcements are known as non-negotiated outcomes.

These talks are contentious – every word can be fought over and they often force the summit into extra time. Why are they important?

Why are the consensus driven talks crucial?

Cop summits are a rare moment where every party has a seat at the table.

This means imperilled small island states, such as Samoa, sit side by side with the US, a superpower.

The talks are also consensus-driven, meaning everyone must agree before a decision is made.

This is rare in a world where the global conversation, and often rules, are dominated by these superpowers.

It gives vulnerable countries and poorer states a chance to get their voice across.

Cop28's loss and damage fund is historic, so why isn't everyone cheering?

Cop28's loss and damage fund is historic, so why isn't everyone cheering?

Are there examples of how this works?

The potential of a negotiated outcome was displayed at Cop 27 in Sharm El Sheikh where a highly symbolic loss and damage fund was created.

This had been long sought after by vulnerable countries on the front lines of the crisis that have done little to cause the problem.

It had been resisted by wealthier countries over fears they could be liable for climate reparations. But a compromise was made and the fund created.

The arduous and fraught nature of the these talks can lead to disagreements, with the closing session of Cop 26 in Glasgow almost collapsing over the use of “phase down” or “phase out” relating to fossil fuels.

Some also say the unwieldy nature of the process means not enough progress is made as countries still have their own national interests.

How do the negotiations work day to day?

During the summit negotiators pore over huge amounts of text.

These usually start as a list of key points and then evolve into a formal document.

They then go through various iterations with teams scrutinising every word and even arguments taking place about where a comma should go.

The presence of square brackets in a text, for example, can often indicate a lack of agreement over a certain theme.

What kind of a negotiated outcome can we expect?

There are two key areas to look for.

Cop28 must complete the “global stocktake” – another piece of UN jargon.

The stocktake assess how the world is trying to keep global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, which was agreed on in Paris in 2015.

The UN has said the world is way off track and could be headed for global warming of up to 3ºC above pre-industrial levels, which would have disastrous consequences for the health and livelihoods of billions of people.

The first draft of the stocktake text was released on Friday. The text was basic but did leave open options on fossil fuels, which could be divisive in any final agreement. But expect the text to change significantly over the next few days.

Cop summits also typically release a cover decision, or a closing declaration, agreed by all parties that charts what has been agreed upon.

The Cop presidency has suggested this is not mandatory and will be up the parties. But it is not clear yet how it will play out. Watch this space.

Updated: December 04, 2023, 5:49 AM