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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
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'I think it's not going to be an easy COP' - world prepares for UN summit

Here’s everything you need to know about the COP28 conference starting in Dubai this week.

WORLD LEADERS WILL gather in Dubai this week to begin two weeks of negotiations at the United Nations’ (UN) annual climate conference, COP28.

Several senior Government members, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan, are expected to travel to the conference as the world takes stock of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are lagging far behind necessary levels.

Speaking to reporters in Ireland this week, EU Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius told The Journal that renewable energy and funding will be among the EU’s priorities at the conference.

However, he said he expects the world’s “geopolitical situation” will “inevitably” impact the negotiations. 

Here’s everything you need to know about COP28. 

What is COP28?

COPs – Conferences of the Parties – are attended annually by countries that are signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to make decisions about how to address the climate crisis.

Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, are driving global temperatures upwards and are leading to devastating consequences for humans, animals and plants.

These impacts are forecasted to grow increasingly worse unless greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.

Over the last number of years, the UN summits have formed a major part in how plans to slash emissions are developed. However, they have also been criticised for being a “talking shop” where countries will discuss the climate crisis but fail to take the necessary action to reduce their emissions. 

The summits have also come in for criticism over the decision to take on corporate sponsorships with links to the fossil fuel industry or environmental damage. 

The summit is called COP28 as this is the 28th time that countries have gathered under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

There are concerns that the Israel-Gaza war has eroded trust between some countries and could make securing a meaningful outcome more difficult at the COP, which usually relies on reaching complicated compromises.

Sinkevičius said: “I think it’s going to be not a very easy COP with the geopolitical situation going to inevitably have an impact on the negotiations.”

When and where is COP28 being held?

This year’s conference is taking place from 30 November to 12 December. However, the conferences frequently run overtime as countries scramble to agree on the terms in the final days of the conferences.

The conference will take place at Expo City Dubai, a 15-minute city billed as a “state-of-the-art destination built to promote sustainability and circularity principles”. The venue is connected to wider Dubai by the Dubai Metro.

The conference will take place in two zones: the Blue Zone and the Green Zone. The Blue Zone is where the official negotiations will take place between parties and world leaders and is managed by the United Nations. 

The Green Zone will be adjacent to the Blue Zone and managed by the COP28 presidency, but unlike the Blue Zone, the Green Zone will be open to the public for events, exhibitions, workshops and talks.

The Global Stocktake

At COP21 in 2015, countries signed up to the Paris Agreement, a deal that stipulated the world would try to limit global warming to no more than two degrees (compared to pre-industrial average temperatures) and strive for 1.5.

Individual countries weren’t given specific targets to work towards achieving that. Instead, they were asked to develop plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) outlining how they would play their part in reaching the overall goal.

Eight years later, this COP marks the first ‘Global Stocktake’, which is looking at where the world stands now on its climate goals.

A recent UN assessment has shown that current national plans would only cut emissions by 2% by 2030 compared to 2019 – far below the 43% considered the minimum necessary.

The staggering shortfall will likely cast a shadow over the two-week conference – though world leaders will be trying to convince each other that their nation is making strident progress when they address the summit in its opening days.

Negotiations about making commitments to mitigate climate change – that is, to take measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the crisis from worsening – will be informed by the current state of play as revealed by the Global Stocktake. 

“The world is failing to get a grip on the climate crisis,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week.

“Inch by inch progress will not do. It is time for a climate ambition supernova in every country, city, and sector.”

Loss and damage 

Another issue set to be of major interest this year is “loss and damage”.

The term loss and damage refers to the way that countries, particularly those who are most vulnerable, are impacted by the climate crisis. It’s also used as a kind of shorthand to refer to measures that can be taken to provide support to those countries.

The UN explains: “Loss and damage arising from the adverse effects of climate change can include those related to extreme weather events but also slow onset events, such as sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, glacial retreat and related impacts, salinization, land and forest degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification.”

Loss and damage only made it onto the agenda at COP27 last year following much negotiation. 

A dedicated fund to address loss and damage was agreed, but much of the detail, including where the money would come from and how it would be administered, was put on the long finger.

Earlier this month, an agreement was reached which sets out that the fund should be launched in 2024 and requires that developing countries have a seat on the board that oversees it. 

The fund is set to be administered by the World Bank for at least four years, something that developing countries were strongly against. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has previously described the World Bank as “not fit for purpose for broader development issues”.

The agreement has not firmed up exactly how much money the fund will collect and developed countries are “urged”, but not required, to contribute. A lack of references to climate justice or human rights also came as a disappointment.

The agreement will be sent forward to COP28 to be discussed and signed off.

UAE presidency

A different country is selected each year to host the COP, rotating between different regions of the world. It was hosted in Egypt last year, in Scotland the year before, and this year is the turn of the United Arab Emirates.

Egypt’s presidency last year was highly scrutinised over concerns about the country’s human rights record and stringent controls over activism and protests. This year, the UAE’s strong fossil fuel sector has been the subject of attention.

The country that hosts the COP appoints a representative to serve as the conference’s president. COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber is the UAE’s Industry Minister and special envoy for climate change, and also the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

In July, Al Jaber said that “phasing down” fossil fuels is inevitable.

The distinction between phasing “down” and phasing “out” is one that countries have laboured over in previous negotiations as it means the difference between making some reductions or fully committing to cutting fossil fuel use.

At pre-COP28 talks, Al Jaber said he knows there are “strong views about the idea of including language on fossil fuels and renewables in the negotiated text” and asked countries to find “common ground”.

Lauren Boland and Jane Moore