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Explainer: what is COP28?

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By illuminem

· 7 min read

COP28 is the annual event organised by the United Nations, where all member states convene to discuss climate change. It serves as a critical platform for global leaders to collaborate on innovative solutions and strategies to address the escalating challenges of the climate crisis. This year’s COP28 puts the spotlight on climate change, bringing all public attention to the issue and creating solutions that extend beyond the realm of public policy.


The acronym COP stands for "Conference of the Parties," and it is used in the context of various international environmental agreements, not just for climate change. However, the most important one by far is the one for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in 1992. These COP meetings are annual global conferences where representatives from countries that are party to the UNFCCC meet to measure progress in dealing with climate change, negotiate and update international agreements and commitments, and discuss future actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts.

This year marks the 28th anniversary of the first COP celebrated in Berlin, Germany in the year 1995. Ever since then, very relevant international agreements have been signed dealing with climate change. For example, the Kyoto Agreement was signed in COP3, The Montreal Action Plan in COP11, and of course, the Paris Agreement, which set the limit to global warming to 1.5 degrees and introduced nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which was signed in COP21. 

Why is COP28 so important?

COP28 is marked by high stakes but also high controversy. The year 2023 is projected to be the warmest year on record, and for the first time ever, on the 20th of November, the global temperature reported more than 2 degrees of warming compared to the pre-industrial levels, breaching temporarily the mark set by the Paris Agreement. Together with this comes the incredibly high number of natural disasters like forest fires and heat waves affecting populations all around the world during the summer. On top of this, last year’s COP27, held in Egypt, was considered by most sources to be a failure with little to no agreements finalised.

This situation means that the world cannot afford another year without significant climate agreements. However, controversies about the host country, the United Arab Emirates have undermined the expectations for this conference. According to Forbes, the UAE is the 9th biggest fossil fuel producer in the world and oil-related products constitute more than one-third of the exports of the country. Worse still, Sultan Al-Jaber, President of COP28, is also the CEO of ADNOC, the UAE’s state-run oil and gas company and has recently had allegations placed in his name claiming that he has used his position as COP President to run private oil and gas deals. This has led critics to believe that the oil lobby has hijacked the conference and that Sultan Al-Jaber is nothing more than a fox guarding the hen’s house. 

What are the key issues to watch at COP28?

This year’s agenda is divided into four main themes, chosen by the COP28 Presidency. The themes are Technology & Innovation, Inclusion, Frontline Communities, and Finance. On top of this, each day will have specific thematic areas, some of which have never or only rarely been talked about in the past, such as trade, food, and accountability. The thematic areas are the following:

Key themes COP28

The primary focus will be on the UN's first-ever "Global Stocktake," assessing global progress in addressing climate change. This stocktake is crucial as it reveals how far the world is from achieving the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C. Key issues include:

  1. Emissions reduction and renewable energy: A significant shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, with aims to triple renewable energy capacity, increase electric vehicle usage, and enhance energy efficiency.
  2. Food and land use: Addressing failures in food systems by improving food security, reducing agricultural emissions, and promoting sustainable food practices.
  3. Climate resilience and finance: Developing nations need substantial financial support to adapt to climate impacts, including operationalizing the Loss & Damage Fund and enhancing adaptation finance.
  4. Urban climate action: Enhancing the role of urban areas in climate action, given their substantial contribution to CO2 emissions, with an emphasis on partnerships between local and national governments.
  5. Demonstrating progress on past pledges: Expectations for countries, companies, and cities to show advancements on previous commitments, including international climate initiatives and national climate plans

Who is going to be at COP28?

  • President Biden from the US and Premier Xi Jinping will not attend the conference, but their climate representatives John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua have undergone meetings spanning over five days in California and will be present at the conference
  • Simon Stiell, the UN climate chief is known for turning pledges into action. Balancing the interests of nearly 200 nations, he cautiously addressed the UAE's controversial choice of al-Jaber as summit president, seeing it as a chance to tackle tough but essential issues.
  • Madeleine Diouf Sarr, chair of the bloc representing the world's least-developed countries, focuses on highlighting climate change disparities. She advocates for clear adaptation strategies and funding for climate-impacted countries like Senegal.
  • Pope Francis, attending his first U.N. climate summit, highlights climate change in the Catholic agenda through his encyclicals "Laudato Si" and "Laudato Deum." In Dubai, he seeks to influence global leaders on ethical climate action and the wise use of humanity's power.
  • Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta chairs the G77 + China bloc at COP, representing 134 developing countries. As Cuba's representative, he advocates for unity in climate finance, playing a key role in negotiations on funding for poorer nations.
  • King Charles III, a dedicated environmental advocate, will deliver the opening address at COP28, marking his first attendance as the U.K. monarch. His commitment to climate action contrasts with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's recent rollbacks on the U.K.'s interim net zero targets and increased support for North Sea oil and gas production.
  • The EU will be represented at COP28 by Wopke Hoekstra, the new climate action commissioner with limited experience, and Teresa Ribera, Spain's ecological transition minister, who brings years of negotiation expertise to the table, complementing Hoekstra's fresh perspective.
  • Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva focuses on reducing deforestation and balancing economic growth with climate action, while Egypt's lead negotiator Mohamed Nasr advocates for climate finance, playing a pivotal role in establishing a fund for climate disaster recovery on behalf of African countries.
  • Other attendees include Ruslan Edelgeriyev, Bill Gates, Vanessa Nakate, Khalid al-Mehaid, Kate Hampton, Mia Mottley, and Jennifer Morgan

illuminem at COP28

Starting today, illuminem will launch comprehensive and insightful coverage of the various activities at this monumental conference. We will bring our readers exclusive articles straight from changemakers present at the conference, addressing the main themes on the agenda and beyond, as well as insights on the most prominent blocs working to generate climate solutions. 

Furthermore, we will be sending a small delegation to Dubai to provide live coverage and meet top policymakers, business leaders, and scientists working together to formulate the policies that could lead to a more sustainable world.

This delegation will also be hosting the "COP28 Debrief: Charting the Climate's Future" event on December 12th, 2023 together with Tikehau Capital and the Italian Minister for Energy and Environment. This event will bring together experts to discuss the outcomes and future of global climate action and aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of COP28's impact and strategies for a sustainable world.

Stay tuned to our coverage on our LinkedIn, Instagram, and X (Twitter), and subscribe to our exclusive COP28 Newsletter for in-depth analysis by industry leaders.

This article is featured in illuminem's Thought Leadership series on COP28 proudly powered by Tikehau Capital.


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