COP28 – Briefing Paper

  • Market Insight 28 November 2023 28 November 2023
  • Global

  • Climate Change Risk Practice

The 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating process will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, between 30 November and 12 December 2023. This briefing paper provides a high-level explanation of the main themes of COP28, the legacy of COP27, the COP negotiating blocs and their aims, and COP28’s hoped-for successes.

At COP28, the Parties to the UNFCCC (197 states plus the EU) will come together to take action towards achieving their collective climate goals under the 2015 Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC, including limiting global warming to 1.5°C or well below 2°C. Building on the progress made at prior COPs, COP28 is expected to progress negotiations on Loss and Damage and see the culmination of the first Global Stocktake.

What are the main themes of COP28?

Each year, the Conference of Parties gives member states and civil society organisations the opportunity to make representations on each article of the Paris Agreement, as well as on the development of mechanisms, alliances, working groups, processes, and rules arising thereunder. These highly technical, focused, and often contentious negotiations rarely make headlines. To streamline each COP, and as a uniting call to action, the host nation typically announces key focus areas. This year, as President Party of COP28, the UAE’s four themes for the climate conference are:

  1. Technology and Innovation

Facilitating action by governments, academia and the private sector to limit warming to 1.5°C.

  1. Inclusion

Engaging with youth, entrepreneurs, gender groups and Indigenous Peoples.

  1. Frontline Communities

Ensuring the most climate-vulnerable “frontline” communities can adapt and build resilience.

  1. Finance

Making the funds available to close the climate finance gap on adaptation and the energy transition and aligning public and private finance with the Paris Agreement goals.

While agreement on each of these themes is crucial to a successful COP28, observers and participants are clear that climate finance, including the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund agreed at COP27, will be the top negotiating priority. Developed countries have consistently failed to implement existing climate finance commitments, including the commitment made at COP15 in 2009 for USD 100bn of annual climate finance flows to developing countries by 2020, and developing countries require significantly increased investment to both grow economically and develop sustainably.

This year, COP28 will host the first Global Stocktake, a process that culminates every five years in which all the Parties to the Paris Agreement report on the progress they have made towards meeting their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). In brief, NDCs contain the non-binding targets countries set themselves to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Global Stocktake will therefore provide the first opportunity for countries to collectively consider their successes and failures in meeting their NDCs to date.

Even prior to COP28 it has become clear that implementation of these NDCs is currently well below the levels required to keep the 1.5°C and 2.0°C goals within reach. Therefore, one key aspect of the Global Stocktake will be the opportunity it provides for countries to collectively consider how to ensure more effective progress in the future, including via the use of novel technologies.

What is the legacy of COP27?

Like all COPs, COP28 will build on the legacy of its predecessor, COP27, which was held in 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Following devastating floods in Pakistan, COP27 was seen as an opportunity for countries to focus on implementing the commitments that had already been made at prior COPs and for the Egyptian hosts to enable a more prominent African perspective at the negotiations.

The most notable outcome of COP27 was the agreement to create a Loss and Damage Fund under the auspices of the UNFCCC. Loss and Damage means the inevitable losses incurred by countries resulting from climate change that cannot be avoided by adaptation or mitigation measures. The failure to give Loss and Damage a prominent position in the COP negotiations had contrasted with powerful calls for its inclusion by climate-vulnerable states. This failure threatened to derail negotiations in Egypt and the eventual agreement of a Loss and Damage Fund was therefore a significant achievement for developing and small island states. How the Fund will operate and what long term funding it will attract remain to be seen.

Further successes at COP27 included continued private sector support for the UNFCCC process and:

  1. the creation of the Forest and Climate Leaders' Partnership (FCLP), which seeks to implement the pledge made at COP26 to halt deforestation by 2030;
  2. agreement on the Sharm El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda, which seeks to organise adaptation and climate-resilient development around 30 science based outcome targets; and
  3. the formation of the African Carbon Market Initiative, which works to accelerate the implementation of long-term voluntary carbon markets in Africa.

However, many saw COP27 as a missed opportunity. No increase in ambition was included in the final negotiated text, with no agreement to phase out (eliminate) or even phase down (reduce) the use of any fossil fuel except coal – a pledge that had already been made, and fiercely fought for, at COP26. Further, the often difficult negotiations around Loss and Damage meant that diplomatic energy was not spent on addressing other shortcomings, such as in the provision of more traditional forms of climate finance for mitigation and adaptation.

What are the negotiating blocs at COP 28 and what are their aims?

Although Parties to the UNFCCC are typically represented individually at COPs, like-minded countries often negotiate together in blocs in order to strengthen their positions. Membership of a bloc is not exclusive, and countries may join different blocs depending on the issue under discussion. Some of these blocs and their respective aims are listed below:

  1. The Group of 77 and China

The G-77 and China includes all developing countries. The bloc doesn’t possess a consistent agenda but as it represents 80% of the global population it is very influential. At COP28 it seeks:

  • a loss and damage fund independent of existing development finance structures; and
  • greater climate finance contributions from developed countries.
  1. The LDC Group

The LDC Group consists of the “Least Developed Countries”. LDCS are particularly vulnerable to environmental and economic shocks and are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. Its main agenda at COP28 is:

  • ensuring the Loss and Damage fund is operationalised this year; and
  • ensuring funding is provided via climate finance grants rather than loans.

While often voting as part of the G-77 and China bloc, the LDC Group often takes positions contrary to those of emerging and oil-exporting economies.

  1. AOSIS (the Alliance of Small Island States)

AOSIS is a group of especially climate-vulnerable island states which, due to their vulnerability and moral legitimacy, were integral in creating the 1.5C goal in Paris. They continue to push for the operationalising of the Loss and Damage Fund and ambitious GHG emissions reduction targets.

  1. The African Group of Negotiators

The African Group represents all African states. Their goals at COP28 include arguing for a faster and more ambitious mitigation and climate finance plan from developed countries.

  1. The Environmental Integrity Group

The EIG is a group of countries from Europe, Asia and the Americas that focuses on mitigation ambition and ensuring effective governance and transparency in climate commitments.

  1. The Coalition for Rainforest Nations

The Coalition includes over 50 rainforest nations and negotiates as a steward of the world’s last rainforests and as implementors of the UNFCCC’s REDD+ anti-deforestation programme.

  1. The Umbrella Group

The Umbrella Group is a coalition of non-EU Parties, including the UK, seeking consistent emissions reduction targets and transparent reporting and accounting. It also seeks current, rather than historic, GHG emission levels to inform accountability for climate change.

What would success look like at COP 28?

Success at COP28 will be measured against the UAE’s main conference themes as well as the key issues of the Global Stocktake and the Loss and Damage Fund. Inevitably, success will be viewed subjectively, depending on the aims of participating nations and their negotiating blocs. Generally, however, there are clear areas where progress is needed and can be made:

  1. Greater Action on Mitigation

Mitigation was a real area of frustration for many Parties at COP27. An agreement in the negotiating language of a “phase down” of unabated fossil fuel use would therefore be a real achievement and sign of progress. Gaining consensus on a “phase out” would be ambitious and seems unrealistic at present.

  1. An agreed response to the Global Stocktake

It is clear that GHG emission reductions under the Global Stocktake have been too few and ineffective to meet even the self-set goals of nations’ NDCs. However, it is the approach to the next five years that will be the focus of negotiations at COP28. Many countries, such as the UAE, want to focus on the development of technological solutions to GHG emissions and climate change, others want to correct the mistakes and increase the ambition of existing approaches. Agreement and compromise on what the Global Stocktake means and how to move forward will be key to a successful COP28.

  1. Loss and Damage

The issue of Loss and Damage almost derailed COP27 before a final push saw agreement on the Loss and Damage Fund. The key goal for COP28 is to either fully operationalise the Fund, which would be highly ambitious, or to demonstrate enough progress towards establishing the fund, such as taking decisions on where it is to be hosted, which countries will contribute and who is eligible for financial support, to keep all Parties happy.

  1. Finance

Underpinning everything at COP28 will be a demand for greater levels of sustainable climate finance. No implementation of any agreements can take place, in developed or developing countries, without such finance. Real progress on establishing a climate finance facility and meeting existing finance commitments, including the USD 100bn annual goal set out in COP15 in 2009, would therefore be a real and lasting COP28 success.

On 30 November 2023 the world’s eyes will turn to the UAE and Clyde & Co will be covering events in the Blue Zone. Look out for further articles and please reach out if you have any questions.


Additional authors:

Maciko Chan, Rabiya Khawaja, Blue Debell, Bethany Brown and Lisa Weigand

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