1. What is COP28?

The 28th annual meeting of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties ("COP28") is being convened in the United Arab Emirates between 30 November and 12 December 2023. COP28 will be attended by a number of high-profile heads of state from some of the 198 signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ("UNFCCC"), along with climate and sustainability experts, NGOs and campaigners.

COP28 has been hailed as a critical opportunity to revise national climate plans and accelerate the ongoing green transition in an effort to safeguard the pledges made by the signatories to the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement, which was agreed at COP21 in 2015, is the most important legally binding international treaty on climate change – with a focus on climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance. It sets binding obligations for signatories to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in order to hold the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

This is in addition to creating funding mechanisms for less developed countries to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, along with financial support for communities who are the most physically and financially vulnerable to climate change.

2. What is at stake?

The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said on the 20 November that "countries must commit to triple renewables capacity, double energy efficiency and bring clean power to all, by 2030". While this appears to be a relatively ambitious aspiration, in a sobering report released by the UN Environment Programme ("UNEP") in advance of COP28 (the "Report"), the UNEP warned that current pledges under the Paris Agreement put the world on track for a 2.5-2.9°C temperature rise above pre-industrial levels this century – emphasising that ambitions in this area need to be higher if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be achieved.

The Report found that "none of the G20 countries are reducing emissions at a pace consistent with their net-zero targets" and called for "all nations to deliver economy-wide, low-carbon development transformations, with a focus on the energy transition".

In more positive news ahead of COP28, two of the most important stakeholders, the US and China, released a joint statement stating that they "remained committed to the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement and decisions thereunder", suggesting that diplomacy in relation to climate change remains a top priority for major international powers. The UK's Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is expected to attend COP28, along with the UK's monarch, King Charles III – and it is estimated that up to 70,000 people from around the world will attend COP28.

3. What is on the agenda?

The Global Stocktake ("GST") is the most important part of the COP28 agenda. The GST is a forum for signatories and other stakeholders to come together and discuss collective progress towards alignment with the Paris Agreement.

It has been touted by the UNFCCC as an opportunity "to take a long, hard look at the state of our planet" and its aim is to identify key areas where insufficient progress has been made, as well as encouraging proactive conversations around areas where positive changes have been made. The outcome of these discussions will inform the contents of signatories' national adaptation plans to create the best possible chance of meeting the targets set by the Paris Agreement. This may well lead to international pledges and further regulatory measures in the domestic law of signatories following COP28.

Vulnerable communities

COP27 saw initial agreement on the establishment of a groundbreaking 'loss and damage fund'. The fund is for communities who are vulnerable to severe weather events but lack the financial means to take mitigation or adaptation measures, or to rebuild in the wake of such events – such as many of the African communities devastated by tropical storm Daniel and Cyclone Freddy respectively in early 2023.

Critical details of the loss and damage fund proposal were not finalised by the end of COP27, resulting in growing dissatisfaction among those stakeholders most impacted. It is expected that participants will seek to finalise the details of this fund at COP28, though disagreement between parties could make resolution challenging.

Funding and closing the emissions gap

The difficulty faced by less economically developed countries in funding climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience has been long discussed at previous COPs. This led to a commitment at COP16 in 2010 by developed economies to create a combined Green Climate Fund ("GCF") for poorer countries, intended to have an annual funding floor of USD 100bn by 2020.

It was hoped that this fund would make decarbonisation efforts economically viable for countries which would otherwise remain reliant on cheaper high-carbon resources for the foreseeable future, but it still sits significantly below its intended funding floor. At time of writing, the GCF stands at USD 13.5bn in committed funds with USD 51.8bn in total approved projects and, in 2020, only around USD 83bn was mobilised. COP28's President, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, has already renewed calls for an increase of funding in this space and it is expected that he will use his premiership as a platform to continue these efforts.

4. What's next?

COP28 will see the majority of Paris Agreement stakeholders discuss the progress towards achieving its goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 °C. With only a few more days until COP28 begins, it is hoped that the GST will act as a catalyst for countries to commit further financial resources and to enact legislation in order to achieve this goal.

As outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Climate Change 2023 Synthesis Report, "there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all". The outcome of COP28 is therefore critical for both individuals and businesses and it is hoped that it will result in meaningful action towards tackling the climate crisis.

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