Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
COP28 flag against a blue sky ;

Your guide to COP28: the issues, obstacles and key players at the global summit

What are the most important issues coming up at COP28? Who are the major players? Where will roadblocks likely arise? Climate negotiations expert and King’s Geography PhD researcher RACHEL HARRINGTON-ABRAMS shares her thoughts on the priority areas on the agenda for negotiators, as well as potential points of contention.

What exactly is COP28?

The 28th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) annual Conference of the Parties (COP) will begin later this week in Dubai, UAE.

COP is an annual negotiation among parties (countries) to the UN Framework Convention (UNFCC). The UNFCCC itself encompasses many things in one. It is one of only a few international treaties that have been universally ratified. It is a UN entity with a Secretariat based in Bonn, Germany.

It also includes an array of mechanisms, ‘bodies’, instruments, and institutions that facilitate key aspects of the climate agenda, including technical support, funding, and policy guidance on emissions mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage.


How does COP work?

To understand the negotiations themselves, it is important to remember that COP represents a convening for political negotiation and diplomacy that punctuates year-round work across many different institutions and working bodies such as the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Committee, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, etc.

Through the negotiations, governments send representatives who convene annually to negotiate the terms of decisions and policy frameworks, for example The Paris Agreement, that shape collective global action (or inaction) on climate change.

During COP, Parties discuss the terms for directives over the coming year, sometimes with heated debates down to specific word choices in decision texts.

Increasingly COP has also become a larger convention and meeting space for civil society stakeholders, activists, researchers, and the private sector to collaborate, share ideas on climate action, and in many cases attempt to influence the direction of the negotiations.


How will we know if COP28 was successful?

While this annual convening produces an array of outcomes, the relative success or failure of an annual COP is measured based on the progress of the negotiations themselves – including the types of decisions that are made and how ambitious they are.

During this year’s 28th Conference of the Parties, negotiators must decide on a number of top line agenda items for this year’s conference, while navigating ongoing controversies and underlying points of contention.


What are some of the ongoing controversies that need to be addressed?

One notable failure in the decision text from last year’s COP in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt was around an explicit commitment to phase out fossil fuels. Parties were relatively close to reaching consensus around including this commitment in the final document, but a last-minute disagreement meant the issue was entirely left out of the Sharm El Sheikh decision text.

There will likely be renewed discussions on this phase out commitment in Dubai coming up, but they will be particularly difficult because of controversy around the COP Presidency this year. The COP Presidency and host nation rotates by region every year. For the 28th conference, it was the Middle East region’s turn, and the UAE was selected thanks to support for their candidature from their regional neighbours.

After being announced as the host country for COP28, the UAE government selected Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), a government Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and the UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change, and as the COP President.

In this role, Sultan Al Jaber has significant power to push for ambition on key host country agenda items. The COP President’s role can particularly be critical in supporting or obstructing diplomatic consensus when parties reach an impasse. Considering the COP President’s background and the important role of the position in progressing the agenda, there has been widespread concern that the Presidency’s goals are not aligned with priority areas entering the negotiations such as securing agreement on a commitment from all Parties that would be enshrined in the decision text to phase out all fossil fuels.

In recent reporting on leaked briefing documents, the BBC found UAE government plans to use COP as a platform to facilitate private meetings with other governments to make deals for new oil and Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) drilling facilitated by ADNOC. Considering this information is in direct opposition with a commitment to phase out fossil fuels, the role of the Presidency in this process will be under significant scrutiny, and the willingness of all Parties to reach agreement in this area remains doubtful.


What is the biggest issue likely to be discussed?

The headline agenda item coming up at COP28 will be the Global Stocktake (GST).

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, Parties committed to submitting Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that detail national plans for emissions mitigation and climate adaptation - action to ensure we do not surpass 2 degrees Celsius of global warming and aiming for below 1.5 degrees Celsius. NDC submission runs on a five-year cycle, with a process of technical evaluation to reflect on current progress and ratchet up ambition in updated NDC submissions.

The GST is the last phase of this first ‘ratchet mechanism’ cycle since Paris and evaluates the current status of collective action around mitigation, adaptation, and means of implementation based on the overall goals of the Paris Agreement.

A ‘technical dialogue’ working group has led the process of collecting and summarising data on current progress over the last year, and submitted an output report that Parties will discuss in Dubai. Producing a final decision text that establishes the urgency and action needed from Parties to meet those goals under Paris – which we are collectively currently a long way from meeting – is a key deliverable for the COP28 Presidency and will be used as a metric to judge the relative success of this year’s conference.

However, there is not yet a draft decision text for the GST with many contentious matters at play – such as whether recommendations should be binding, and how the GST connects to other areas of the negotiations – so this will likely be a challenging area for Parties to find resolution.


What else will be on the agenda?

Other areas of high importance that will continue during the negotiations in Dubai include ongoing discussions on a new Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance (NCQG) to supersede the previous commitment from developed countries for $100 billion annually in climate finance. This is currently far from being met with current contributions at around $10 billion annually.

Negotiations will also continue around establishing a transparent framework for voluntary carbon markets under Articles 6 and 13 of the Paris Agreement, including one that avoids common problems with carbon offsetting like double counting.

COP28 will include two other significant milestones in the negotiations with critical inflection points beyond the GST, including the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) and the new Loss and Damage Fund.

Negotiations on the GGA will focus on the application of a proposed new framework for monitoring and measuring progress on efforts around the world to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, which has been under discussion through the Glasgow-Sharm El Sheikh Work Programme (GLaSS) over the course of a two-year work programme.

Agreement on this framework for measurement is critical considering how difficult it is to standardise indicators and measure success around adaptation compared to the more straightforward targets of emissions reduction for mitigation. These measurement challenges are compounded by a growing gap in adaptation finance and support for implementation as compared to mitigation – although finance considerations for adaptation will fall under the NCQG negotiations.


Is there one issue that is likely to be particularly difficult to resolve?

The issue that may be the most contentious of all, and which will likely be the focus of much of the media attention during COP, will be the negotiations around the structure for a new Loss and Damage Fund.

The Fund is supposed to provide compensation for developing countries experiencing permanent losses and damages from the impacts of climate change that surpass their capacity to adapt to these changes.

After Parties failed to reach agreement in Glasgow, they finally managed to decide at the last minute in Sharm El Sheikh to establish a new Loss and Damage Fund. They created a Transitional Committee (TC) to gather information through workshops and develop a proposed agreement around the structure, modalities, scale, and institutional home for a new Fund. In a dramatic extra meeting a few weeks ago, Parties came to a compromise proposal to be considered at COP. The current proposal is for a new Fund to be administered by the World Bank for an interim period.

During COP, Parties will likely reopen the debate around the underlying problems with this current proposal, including that there are no plans for who manages the Fund after this transitional period or whether the World Bank becomes the de facto long-term home for the Fund.

Additional areas of contention are that the World Bank mainly provides loans and is largely donor driven, rather than the types of non-revenue generating grants that are needed to compensate for permanent losses and damages incurred from the impacts of climate change.

Equally, if housed under the World Bank, the Fund would also not need to adhere to climate justice principles embedded within the UNFCCC since the World Bank is not a Fund that was established under the UNFCCC, such as those recognizing ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ of different countries for global emissions.

There are also ongoing disagreements around who should be considered a donor to this and other climate finance funds, and who can be a recipient – including in which category oil-producing nations such as the UAE should fall.

Other potentially contentious areas include the spectrum of what will or will not be included in the terms of the Fund – such as Non-Economic Losses and Damages – and the fact that current proposed text ‘encourages’ developed countries to contribute but includes no binding commitment or imperative around compensation and liability.


What is the likely endpoint?

Both the COP Presidency and UNFCCC Secretariat have a difficult job ahead to facilitate consensus on a number of critical and longstanding issues key to addressing the climate crisis.

Considering these many areas of contention in the proposed framework for the Loss and Damage Fund, it is likely that the recommended framework will be reopened for negotiation in Dubai. The Loss and Damage Fund, the recommendations based on the outputs of the GST, and agreement on the GGA will all likely remain a difficult area for negotiators into the early hours of the final day.


Where can I find out more?

To learn more about the negotiations check out the UNFCCC’s YouTube channel, where many sessions and side events are livestreamed daily throughout COP.

About the author

Rachel studies the negotiations and international institutions connected to the UNFCCC, particularly related to adaptation and loss and damage policy. She has attended COP26 in Glasgow, UK and COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt as an observer for her PhD research. She also coordinates and leads the university’s delegation together with Professor Megan Bowman, KCL’s Designated Contact Person with the UNFCCC. In this role, provides training for new COP delegates on the negotiations and how to navigate the COP process, as well as facilitating opportunities for those who attend COP to share their experiences with the King’s community.


In this story

Latest news