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What to expect from COP28 before it begins

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Ariel view of Dubai cityscape. Photo by David Rodrigo on Unsplash

What is COP28, when does it begin, and why is it important?

COP28 – the 28th annual UN meeting of the Conference of the Parties on climate – is fast approaching. This year, the conference is being hosted in Dubai from the 30th of November to the 12th of December. Delegates from over 200 countries will attend alongside several other key stakeholders across private, public and third sectors. Accelerating the switch from coal, oil and gas to clean energy sources is expected to be the dominant topic of discussion at the summit. An international pledge to triple global renewable capacity and double energy efficiency by the end of the decade will likely be the headline outcome of the conference.

The choice of location has come under much scrutiny from environmental and human rights groups due to the UAE being one of the largest oil-producing countries in the world, as has the selection of Dr Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the head of the UAE’s state-owned oil company, to chair the conference, which added further fuel to the fire. However, the conference’s focus predominantly revolves around reaching targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. COP28 is one of the last opportunities to hit the international goal of limiting long-term global temperature rises to 1.5C. The world is currently on track for about 2.5C of warming by 2100, and scientists warn that the window for keeping the 1.5C limit in reach is ‘rapidly narrowing’.

What’s the importance of COP28 for local government?

While COP28 is a global conference that may feel disconnected from the day-to-day work of implementing climate action, the decisions made over this two-week period will have an important impact on the shape and pace of local climate action.

Local authorities have a vital role to play in leading climate action. Councils are often on the front lines of the climate crisis and face the challenging task of both protecting communities from the impacts of the climate crisis and cutting emissions to reach net zero targets.

Despite the numerous challenges associated with climate action at a local level, councils across the world are taking bold leadership on this issue. In recognition of the important role of local authorities, the European Union is set to formally advocate for an “increased involvement of local and regional governments in the implementation of international climate agreements, recognising their leadership in accelerating and broadening climate action.”

What are the key issues to be aware of ahead of COP28?

A global stocktake

COP28 will see the UN conclude its first-ever “global stocktake”, which has assessed the world’s collective progress toward addressing the climate crisis against the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. This stocktake will shape the expectations of every country to set stronger national emissions reduction targets. The stocktake comprises of two elements, a technical aspect and a political aspect. The technical phase saw the UN release a Global Stocktake Synthesis Report in September 2023, which revealed that although countries had made signficant progress since 2015, the world is significantly off track from its goal of holding global temperature rise to 1.5C. The political aspect will see a declaration on what countries will do next, with discussions on the transition to renewable energy sources. Simon Striell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, called the report “a report card of our collective climate action. And not a good one.” before adding that “COP28 is our chance to make a dramatic course correction. Let’s seize that chance”.

A Just Transition away from fossil fuels

Given the results of the UN’s global stocktake, catalysing a just transition away from fossil fuels will be a key issue for delegates at COP28. Phasing out fossil fuels will likely be discussed as part of a broader package on energy, which includes targets on scaling up renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Previous conferences have seen a growing number of countries call for a global phase out of fossil fuels. At COP26, countries agreed to “accelerate efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power”,  the first COP decision to ever refer to a fossil fuel, whereas at last year’s COP27, 80 countries including the US, India and the EU called for a decision on coal to be expanded to a total global phaseout of fossil fuels, which ultimately was unsuccessful.

This year, many countries are again calling for a phaseout of fossil fuels. EU climate negotiations saw European countries agree to call for such a phaseout in October, which will be backed by members of the High Ambition Coalition.

Food and land use

In July 2023, the COP28 Food Systems and Agriculture Agenda was launched by the COP28 presidency and the UN Food Systems Coordination Hub. This agenda calls on countries to align agricultural policies with nationally determined contributions and national adaptation plans and to include targets for food system decarbonization into these and national biodiversity policies. A key goal of this strategic partnership is to secure the commitment of Heads of State and governments to implement these actions by facilitating the signing of the first-ever Leaders Declaration on Food Systems, Agriculture, and Climate Action.

Climate adaptation

When the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, its signatories agreed to establish a Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) to “enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change.” At COP28, governments will be looking to agree on a framework for the GGA in order to better guide implementation and improve the global balance between mitigation and adaptation.

Loss and damages

COP27 concluded with a breakthrough agreement to establish a new ‘loss and damage fund’ to support countries that are the hardest hit by the climate crisis. Flash forward to early November, and negotiators succeeded in putting together details for this new fund. Administered by the World Bank, the new fund will draw on a variety of funding sources, including from the US, EU and UK. The blueprint for this fund must be formally adopted at COP28, with delegates to decide on practical arrangements to make sure the fund is up and running.

Climate and health

The COP28 UAE Presidency has chosen health as a priority area for the Conference and is committed to putting health at the centre of climate discussions. As part of this COP28’s President has designated the first-ever Health Day (3rd of December) and set up a climate-health ministerial at COP.

Looking for insights into how local government tackles climate change, check out LGIU’s collection of resources:

  1. Collection: Energy – powering local future
  2. Collection:Pollution
  3. Collection: Environmental governance


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