Why Do We Need COP28 When the World Has All the Climate Answers Already?

why is cop28 important climate change

The 28th annual United Nations Conference of the Parties is set to get underway in Dubai on Thursday as world leaders gather to once again discuss the impacts of human activity in the ongoing degradation of the climate and the environment.

Against a backdrop of international conflict, catastrophic environmental disasters, economic pressures, and rising emissions, COP28 is set to be a turbulent one. This is charged by the growing divide between the nations that are the least historically responsible and most at risk of climate change versus those most responsible and most prepared to weather it.

What’s more, while the conferences are broadly a net positive, with a slew of historic climate limitation pledges as a result, there has been growing concern in recent years over their efficacy. Simply put, COP meetings have been critiqued for being all talk and not nearly enough action.

COP26, held in Glasgow, was billed as the ‘best last chance’ for humanity to halt devastating climate change. The outcome of that meeting was the Glasgow Climate Pact, building on the 2015 Paris Agreement with further targets and limitations, and the Paris Rulebook which created timeframes and transparency mechanisms. COP26 President Alok Sharma said that the conference “kept 1.5 degrees alive” but it will only survive if words are translated into rapid action.

At COP27, held in Egypt, tensions ran high with session walkouts and missed deadlines. It was widely judged to be a failure after oil producers and high-emitting nations weakened agreements. Although funding to help developing nations pay for climate damage was secured, previous promised payments have still failed to materialise.

“Our planet is still in the emergency room,” Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN said at the time. “We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and this is an issue this COP did not address. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition.”

At that conference, fossil fuel lobbyists grew by 25%, numbering more than 630 individuals, far outweighing almost every single national representative group. More than 100 attendees flew in on private jets. Climate activist Greta Thunberg decided to skip COP27, branding the meeting “greenwashing.”

“The COPs are mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing,” she said. They are “not really meant to change the whole system” and are “not really working,” she added.

This year has seen global temperatures increase to well beyond average, with sea levels far warmer than they should be. Emissions are still rising and we’re on target for 2.5 degrees of warming by the end of this century — a catastrophic outcome. Drastic action is needed right now to stop the worst-case scenarios from happening.

With all of that in mind, why exactly is COP28 important?

Why Is COP28 Important?

70,000 people will descend on the United Arab Emirates capital of Dubai for COP28. These include some of the world’s most powerful and influential people who are set to gather for the most important annual global meeting on climate change.

COP28 runs from Thursday 30 November until 12 December. Typically, the first few days and the last few days are the most important of these conferences, and COP28 is likely to be no different.

World leaders usually fly in for the start of the meetings to make pre-planned headline-grabbing announcements and then leave to have their representatives nut out the tougher stuff. At the end of the conference, the big decisions are made.

This year, the world will be hoping to see more decisive language over the phasing out of fossil fuel use. Last year, India was able to water down a statement on the “phasing out” of coal to the less ambitious “phasing down.”

Further negotiations over how much and who will pay developing nations for climate adaptation are also expected. The US, for one, has ruled out the idea of paying climate reparations which has been criticised.

Carbon capture and storage technology is expected to be a big focus of this year’s event, with fossil fuel-producing nations pushing the unproven concept as a solution to the climate crisis. It’s controversial as it not only promotes business as usual but could lead to runaway warming if it fails to work.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed addresses the preparatory meeting ahead of the UN climate conference (COP28) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Image: UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed / UN

Despite being simply another opportunity to mull things over, in the absence of real action, critics are hopeful that COP28 will be another opportunity to keep vital conversations going. This year, Britain has wavered over its net zero commitments which the UN will be seeking assurances it will not back out of. The US is opening new oil and gas developments while the EU has failed to strengthen its emissions reduction targets. China and India too are still investing heavily in coal.

“Certainly, the secretary general will be leaning in to have those conversations with countries like the UK, the US, China, many [others]. It doesn’t stop,” Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General told the Guardian.

“We have to keep them in the room [discussing climate action]. We need to get out of everyone the best of the ambition that is expected from us.”

So, despite being an incredibly slow-moving beast, part of the use of COP is good old-fashioned public shaming in an effort to prevent backsliding and hold nations to their commitments.

Who Will Attend COP28?

Most world leaders will be in attendance at COP28, with 167 having RSVP’d. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva will be there, as will British PM Rishi Sunak. Pope Francis is set to make an appearance as is King Charles III. Heads of state from Japan, France, India, Germany, Iran, and Saudi Arabia will also visit.

Australia’s PM will not make it, with Energy and Climate Minister Chris Bowen going in his stead. Anthony Albanese has copped flak recently for having taken a series of overseas trips, despite travelling just as much as former PMs.

President Xi Jinping is not expected to make it however and neither is US President Joe Biden. Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to make it either.

Why Is Dubai Hosting COP28?

The UAE is one of the wealthiest nations in the world per capita thanks to its vast oil riches. The somewhat hypocritical status as host of a climate convention has not gone unnoticed and while it had been hoped that the country’s expertise in fossil fuels could be valuable in helping nations get off the carbon train, it now appears unlikely.

Recently leaked documents revealed that the USE has been planning to use COP28 to broker deals with other nations for its own oil and gas companies. Sultan Al Jaber, who is running COP28, is also the chief executive of the UAE’s national oil company, Adnoc. The UN has criticised the development but others have said having oil and gas-producing nations around the table is vital for a clean energy transition.

Countries around the world take turns hosting the COP, rotating through the five UN regional groups. The UAE was supported in its bid to host the conference by other regional nations and accepted by the UN.

What Is Australia Doing at COP28?

COP28 is a big one for Australia. It’s the second Labor government conference and the last chance for the administration to prove its commitment to climate efforts ahead of a decision over the COP31 host in 2026.

While our country is gunning for the position, it needs the support of regional Pacific nations who have said they will only give us their backing if we draw hard lines over fossil fuel expansion. The PM has said it’s a position he’s unlikely to take.

Bowen is expected to bring evidence to COP28 that Australia is on track to meet its 2030 commitments of a 43% reduction in emissions. The Energy and Climate Minister is set to release emissions data before the conference although much of the calculations are based on changes to forest clearing plans.

Australia has long been a pariah when it comes to these big conferences. Notably, we demanded special exemptions in the 1997 Kyoto Protocols, failing to ratify them for 10 years. During the Morrison era, we shaped up as a climate villain, with multiple nations criticising our lack of ambition and desire to delay proceedings.

Our country is one of the largest polluters per capita in the world. Only Russia and Saudi Arabia export more fossil fuels. While the Albanese government has attempted to promote itself as bringing Australia ‘back in the game’, there is still a long way to go before the rest of the world truly believes we’re taking this seriously. COP28 will be a serious test of our commitments.

Related: COP27: What Happened at the Global Climate Summit and Did It Make or Break the Planet?

Related: COP: Everything You Need to Know About the Global Climate Meeting

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