COP28 and Why It Matters

Conference of Parties in the UAE | Source: India Shipping News
Conference of Parties in the UAE | Source: India Shipping News

In climate conversation, “fossil fuels” is the most used phrase to describe the root cause of climate change, and there is no time to continue denying it is. This past December at the 28th Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, “fossil fuels” was finally used in the formal agreement.

Rhetoric and labeling are essential tools when crafting long statements. Finally calling out “fossil fuels'' and acknowledging their impact is a positive step. As reported in the New York Times activists remain disappointed that some essential rhetoric was excluded from the statement, like “phase out fossil fuels” which is a much more aggressive approach compared to the agreed upon “transitioning away from fossil fuels.”

After 30 years of climate discussion, these results, while a step in the right direction, shocked citizens, scientists, and activists around the globe that this is the first time that the term has been officially used. This slow progress makes people around the world wonder if the COP system is the best system to combat climate change. 

The Conference of Parties is held by the United Nations annually unless the Parties decide that it is not necessary. Any official conference between parties is technically a COP, but it is mostly referred to as such when the COP addresses the climate crisis or the COP addresses Biodiversity.

The number after COP (ex. COP 28) refers to the number of COPs on the topic that have been held so far, and there have been 28 COPs so far. COP is an extremely organized high-level conference that gathers world leaders.

World leaders and diplomats are the most powerful attendees of COPs, but other powers attend and attempt to influence the decision such as fossil fuel lobbyists, climate activists, scientists, and so much more. Approximately 85,000 people attended COP 28, with over 2,000 of those fossil fuel lobbyists. 

Each year since then the location of the COP rotates through different countries. The President for each COP also rotates every year. The leader of COP 28 is Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber who has a lot of experience as a CEO in the energy sector and has become a “global green energy player” according to the COP 28 UAE online information. Despite this, there has been some controversy around Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber.

According to CNN, evidence resurfaced of the COP 28 president saying that there is “no science” behind the phase-out of fossil fuels in addition to being an oil executive in the energy sector himself, Al Jaber is facing allegations regarding his inability to be impartial. The next day, however, he defended his belief in science saying that a fossil fuel phase-out is “inevitable” and “essential.” 

According to Iberdrola, a leading wind farm company, the first large-scale meeting on climate change was the 1992 Earth Summit which was held in Rio de Janeiro. It addressed all (most) climate-related issues. Since this first meeting, COP has split into three different subcategories to address climate issues (each meeting at different times in the year).

The COP about climate change gets the most media attention and is far more well known compared to the others. Bringing over 200 countries together, the first climate summit labeled as a “COP” and organized by the UN was in 1995 in Berlin. 

There have been many notable COPs over the years. For instance, there is COP 3 where countries who signed the new Kyto Protocol had to reduce emissions by 5% by 2012 from 1995 statistics. One of the most well known products from a COP was the Paris Agreement established during COP 21 in 2015.

According to the public information provided by the UNFCCC, the Paris Agreement was signed by 196 countries and essentially pledges to increase effort to remain 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. Countries who signed the Paris Agreement have to present ambitious climate action plans every 5 years that illustrate their effort towards the global goal. 

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Compared to 2015, however, more scientists are urgently stressing that the warming levels need to stay under 1.5 degrees celsius which would require emissions to peak in 2025 and subsequently decline by 43% before 2030. 

Other notable products from COPs include the Glasgow Climate Pact and Loss- and-Damage Fund. At COP 26 in Glasgow, the Glasgow Climate Pact stated that the world is working towards limiting warming beyond 1.5 degrees celsius as opposed to 2 degrees celsius indicated in the Paris Agreement.

This pact also allowed more developed nations to contribute 100 billion dollars a year to less developed nations to support their climate mitigation. Another key creation was from COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh where the Loss-and-Damage Fund was implemented to recognize that while underdeveloped nations do need to decrease emissions, their emissions are much lower compared to wealthier countries.

These nations will be damaged the most by extreme weather that is a product of global temperature rising. As a result, this Fund aims to provide financial support for countries that get hit the hardest by the effects of climate change.

World Government Summit in Dubai | Source: CNN

COP 28 came with successes, but also subsequent failures and disappointments. COP 28 lasted from November 30th- December 13th (2023) and had a schedule that featured different topics in some meetings and some workshops. For example, on November 28th there was a conference on Gender and Environment Data whereas on November 27th African Group Preparatory Meeting and an Orientation Session for Youth on the 30th.

Meetings that involve specific nations are limited access, while the open workshop style programming is mainly available to all. This structure allows for the conference to discuss all of the issues that they want to address from food systems, public health, and environmental justice, to even youth activism and AI.

While this structure has its benefits by allowing for a diverse, thorough discussion, most critics and activists agree that COP lacks an action-oriented direction as explained by Project Drawdown. Especially in the results from COP 28, with the New York Times reporting nothing about this “transition away” from “fossil fuels” in a “just, orderly, and equitable manner” at COP 28 is binding in any way.

This makes the policy more symbolic than actionable. While the language indicates a step forward, activists are unclear about how much it will impact such an urgent issue.

When educating and learning all about global negotiations and policy, it is easy to feel hopeless at the slow pace of change. According to the University World News “students feel disappointed but not disempowered” in response to COP 28.

The distinction between disappointed and disempowered seems to be the approach to thinking about the results of COP 28. Yes, we can be disappointed by the lack of ambitious action, but the true danger is to become disempowered. 

Environmental activists at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai | Source: Aljazeera

Regardless, the results from COP 28 are significant because of the potential power that they can have over the global future. Clearly, they are significant to the world, but what about individuals? Recycling is important, as not using too much plastic, working towards getting an electric car, and turning the lights and water off.

Everyone should do everything they can to fight the climate crisis, but these small actions don’t mean we can tune out what is playing out on the world stage. Paying attention to the Conference of Parties and learning about it can become a civic weapon for the ordinary citizen.

All of the media that surrounds the conference, all of the opinions, the disappointments, the triumphs, the activists, and the political leaders are also great resources for us to learn more and help take action.

As much as it is the responsibility of the people, young and old, to do their part to reduce their emissions, it is also vital to take responsibility for learning about global policy and current events, like COP 28. 


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