10 Key Issues for COP 28

The UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27), held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November 2022, ended on a downbeat note as the final communique was rushed through at the last minute and was regarded as unsatisfactory by many participating delegates, government officials and observers, who had been hoping for a more aggressive stance on the phase out of fossil fuels and a more proactive statement of intent concerning the provision of finance to the developing world. One positive note was an agreement to set up a Loss & Damage Fund to help compensate developing countries for the impact of climate change that they have suffered, but even this achievement was undermined by the fact that no actual pledges were made and no methodology for its use was established. Perhaps more importantly, though, there seemed to be little sign that the Conference had catalysed active steps to increase mitigation efforts and encourage firmer commitments to ratchet up pledges on emission reduction and decarbonisation of the global energy sector.

As a result, many of the key issues were left for discussion at COP 28, which is to be held in Dubai from 30th November to 12th December 2023. Financing for the developing world will again be at the forefront of discussions.  A critical focus will also be on the findings of the Global Stocktake and the political reaction to them, as COP 28 will set a foundation for work on the new nationally determined contributions (NDCs) which countries will need to prepare over the next two years ahead of COP 30. In addition, there will be much discussion on the future of hydrocarbons and the phasing out of unabated fossil fuels.

Beyond the specific energy transition debate, geopolitics will also cast a shadow over the COP, as many of the key actors are currently distracted by conflicts and tensions around the world, both military and economic. It will be critical to see whether Parties can separate their current political disagreements from the global challenge of emissions reduction and decarbonisation. The indications from pre-COP meetings are mixed. The Bonn Intersessional, which took place in June, struggled to set an agreed agenda for its own meeting, never mind the COP, with the debate on financing and the mitigation work programme being key stumbling blocks. However, subsequent discussions at the G7, the MENA and New York Climate Weeks and at the Pre-COP meeting in Abu Dhabi have struck a more conciliatory and progressive note, providing hope that COP28 may produce some positive results.

Having said that, securing agreement amongst the 197 parties who participate in the process is always a difficult process, especially as unanimity is required for the signing of the final communique. As such, achievement of the four main goals set out by COP President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber; to fast track the transition away from fossil fuels; to transform climate finance; to focus on the role of people and nature in the transition; and to ensure inclusivity for all participants, may be a struggle. The best hope of results from the COP process may again come from the multilateral agreements that were a key part of COP 26 and COP 27 and which brought issues such as methane emissions, net zero emission vehicles, deforestation and just energy transition partnerships to greater prominence even as the main conference was struggling to reach overall consensus.

We have identified 10 key themes which we believe will be the main topics of conversation at COP 28 and which will drive the progress of the negotiations.

By: James Henderson