What happened at COP 28

What happened at COP 28

Friday, January 19, 2024

Landmark decisions, controversy and disappointment

If COP27 seemed low on the UK’s agenda after some interest the previous year when UK hosted in Glasgow, COP28 coverage was almost subliminal in the year of the highest post-industrial global temperature on record. Held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, it was a summit with some apparently ‘ground breaking’ agreements as well as controversy and disappointment and was also the largest attended climate COP in history. There were 97,000 delegates in attendance, with more than 150 heads of state, including King Charles III who had been told by Rishi Sunak not to attend last year.

The host nation

Critics questioned the suitability of the host and the presidency. The United Arab Emirates is one of the word’s major fossil fuel producing nations and the designated president of the summit, Sultan Al Jaber, is also the head of the UAE’s national oil and gas company, Adnoc. He has previously been on record as saying that there is no evidence that the phasing-out of fossil fuels is going to achieve 1.5C.

Fossil fuels

The Global Stock Take was a review of countries’ efforts in following the 2015 Paris Agreement (keeping temperatures below 2°C and even targeting 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels). COP called for a list of goals from all countries, pushing for faster action in the next ten years through tripling of renewable energy, curbing methane and phasing out some fossil fuel subsidies.

Nearly every country has agreed to ‘transition away from fossil fuels’ - the first time an agreement specifically focussed on fossil fuel has been reached in 28 years of international climate negotiations. This was called a ‘landmark’ decision but was also widely criticised for watering down the language (previously, ‘phase out’) and allowing for countries (like the UK) to claim a role for fossil fuels in their supposed net zero goals.

The stock take revealed that countries were already falling far short of their goals.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AoSIS) was dismayed that the final agreement was approved when they were out of the room, and with the content of the agreement which was tantamount to signing their ‘death certificate’.

Climate fund

The fund for ‘loss and damage’ which was agreed at COP27 was launched. This is a way for industrial powers to transfer aid to developing nations hit by disasters caused by climate change and was a hard-won, overdue acknowledgment of the responsibility of the nations that produce the most emissions. Unfortunately, the amounts pledged so far fall well short of the £320 billion a year estimate of what is necessary. Campaigners also pointed out that the UK’s pledge of £60 million was taken from an existing and recently downgraded climate finance pledge.

Food, agriculture and environment

Approximately 160 nations committed to a pledge concerning food and agriculture. The Global Stock Take underscored the crucial role of halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030 in achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement. This marks the first instance of formal recognition for such a commitment but critics were disappointed that the final text omitted food system transformation and agriculture emissions.


Cop28 was characterised by the large number and significant increase of delegates from industries linked to climate change, including fossil fuel companies, meat and dairy producers and organisations pushing for carbon capture solutions.


In contrast to previous U.N. climate conferences, such as the massive protest gatherings at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 and COP21 in Paris in 2015, COP28 experienced subdued demonstrations, reflecting the limited freedom of expression in the host country. Environmental, youth, and indigenous groups were among the activists at the demonstration, advocating for the fulfillment of commitments and the cessation of ecocide. The protesters voiced opposition to the influence of polluting industries' lobbying efforts and criticized the involvement of the industrial-military complex. Calls were also made for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The future

Finance is anticipated to take centre stage at COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan, next year.

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/unfccc/53385552248/in/album-72177720313231325/

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