Cop28 so far: What's happened at the UN climate conference and what to expect next?

Difficult negotiations to take centre stage as the summit enters endgame

Cop28 runs until December 12 at Expo City Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Cop28 has hit the pause button and Thursday is an official rest day – but there's still plenty more to come.

The conference started strongly with a historic loss and damage deal agreed to, leading to optimism all over the world that breakthroughs could be made at Dubai's Expo City.

So what has happened so far and what can we expect when the summit resumes on Friday?

Major announcements and billions of dollars in finance

Eleven pledges and declarations on vital areas such as food, peace and recovery, renewable energy and efficiency, methane and decarbonising heavy emitting industries dominated the first few days. The food declaration, for example, was signed by more than 100 countries and seeks to put climate at the heart of agriculture.

Scaling up climate finance is also critical in tackling climate change, with the Cop presidency on Wednesday stating more than $80 billion has been mobilised so far, including funds pledged for loss and damage.

Respecting the science and answering sceptics

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President, on Monday said he and the presidency “respect the science” and understand the urgent need for climate action.

He reiterated the long-standing position that the “north star” of the presidency was keeping 1.5ºC within reach.

Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, also said the UAE was answering its sceptics at Cop28 while changing international perceptions about what the country stands for.

Meet the members of the public attending Cop28

Meet the members of the public attending Cop28

Climate talks take centre stage

Negotiators are now working long into the night, particularly on the global stocktake. This will assess how the world is doing in its goal – agreed to in Paris in 2015 – of keeping global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Several iterations have been issued so far. It is a basic text and subject to change but it did leave open several options on the future of fossil fuels.

“There are areas where a lot of the text has been agreed but there are other negotiations that are a little bit more difficult,” said Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster, Samoa’s Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Lands.

“Overall I’d say not too bad.”

Fossil fuels: phase out, phase down and what unabated means

One of the key issues at this summit is the future of fossil fuels, the primary driver of global emissions.

The Cop28 presidency has called on parties to come forward with language on fossil fuels.

Dr Al Jaber on Monday said the “phase down” and “phase out” of fossil fuels was “inevitable” – the farthest he has gone so far in addressing this.

More than 100 countries, including the US and the EU, have already said they want to see a phase out of fossil fuels. Hard talks lie ahead as countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia have been historically resistant to such language.

Unabated – meaning fossil fuels used without carbon capture technologies – also keeps cropping up, but many experts say carbon capture has yet to be proven at scale.

How is the summit going?

“It’s a story of the glass being both half full and half empty,” said Tim Benton, research director at Chatham House, where he leads the environment and society centre. “Attendees are also simultaneously hopeful and depressed.”

Prof Benton said the loss and damage win, scaling up renewables and the declarations were reason to hope but many areas are “mired in tensions, with little progress towards what many hope will an ambitious final negotiated text”.

The second week of Cop28 will also see the presidency take a more active role in the process.

It will identify areas where work needs to be done, help parties find common ground and try to guide the talks to a successful outcome on Tuesday.

What kind of final decision can we expect?

Cops tend to feature what is known as a cover decision – typically an announcement made at the end that outlines what has been achieved. Last year’s included an agreement to establish a loss and damage fund.

This year, we know parties are working on the stocktake text. It is seen as increasingly likely that this will be the main outcome from Cop28. Although a separate cover decision cannot be ruled out at this stage. Cop28 might also see a separate political declaration on the stocktake but this is unconfirmed.

“The global stocktake is the centrepiece of the Cop outcome and will carry the most politically important messages to the world,” said Tom Evans, climate change expert at think tank E3G.

“At Cop27 in Egypt and before that at Cop26 in Glasgow, those were the so-called ‘cover texts’ – and this year at Cop28, it looks like the global stocktake decision is essentially serving that function.”

Will Cop28 go into an extra day?

Cop28 is due to finish on December 12, but Cops are notorious for overshooting this deadline. Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh, for example, was expected to finish on a Friday but did not end until early on Sunday.

It is difficult to assess now if Cop28 will take this trajectory but it should become clearer by early next week.

“Next week will be long, hard and fractious,” said Prof Benton. “But there remains a lot to play for.”

Updated: December 08, 2023, 4:29 AM