COP28 UAE explained by Dr Richard Hodgkins

The 2023 United Nations climate change conference begins in the United Arab Emirates this week – here is all you need to know.

Known as COP28, which stands for Conference of the Parties, the summit is an opportunity for all the world's nations to gather and discuss pressing environmental issues such as carbon emission, greenhouse gases and other topics.

It is also a chance for world leaders to negotiate practical ways to slow down climate change. In the past, it led to the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions to an extent that will keep the atmosphere and wider environmental stable, safe and habitable.

The 28th COP meeting takes place in December, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – a controversial choice, mainly because this year’s COP President, Sultan Ahmed al Jaber, is also the Managing Director and group CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).

Loughborough University’s Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, Dr Richard Hodgkins, explains what is going on this year:

Why should people care about COP28? 

This year, 2023, which will almost certainly be the warmest year in recorded history, has seen an extraordinary succession of climate extremes: brutal heat, colossal wildfires, merciless floods and searing drought.

The USA alone had 23 separate extreme weather events that caused over $1bn in damages each. Remarkably, more CO2 has been emitted into the atmosphere since the COP process began in 1992 than in the previous 240 years. However, the COP process can only ever be as effective as governments and their lobbyists are willing to make it.

Is COP28 a particularly important meeting?

It’s been contentious so far: there was widespread scepticism at the announcement of one of the world’s major oil producers, the UAE, as host of COP28, even more so when Sultan Ahmed al Jaber was nominated as COP President, as he is the boss of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). Further, the UAE already sent a large delegation of industry lobbyists to the previous COP27 in Egypt, which ended without significant progress on emissions reduction.

Hopefully, this scepticism will prove unfounded, but the concern is legitimate, given the fossil fuel industry’s extensive track record of delay and obstruction on any emissions reductions.

Reaching the internationally approved 2015 Paris Agreement target to limit global warming to no more than 2°C requires the end of fossil-fuel expansion. So ADNOC’s plans for $150 billion of fossil-fuel expansion this decade is at odds with the Paris Agreement and a clear conflict of interest for the UAE and Al Jaber.

It is nevertheless critical to look beyond the COP28 host to other major nations. The US, China, Russia, Brazil, Iran and Canada all have even larger fossil fuel expansion plans than ADNOC. Likewise, Europe, while positioning itself as an ambitious supporter of fossil-fuel phase-out, has invested well over $1 trillion into fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement, including $130 billion in 2022 alone. Globally, subsidies for fossil fuels are equivalent to 7% of gross domestic product: almost twice as much as governments spend annually on education (4%). So, the UAE may not be a model host for a COP, but it’s hardly the only one.

What are the stand-out subjects on the COP28 agenda?

The main achievement of last year’s COP27 in Egypt was the agreement to create a loss and damage fund to aid “particularly vulnerable” nations, with developed countries providing financial assistance to developing countries, so they can take measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

However, progress on delivering this fund has been slow and difficult, which could be a major blow to COP28 as Al Jaber has emphasised: “Finance is a critical enabler of climate action.” The main decision so far has been to host the fund at the World Bank, which has not been welcomed by many developing countries.

Finally, paramount as the COPs are, it’s important to remember that there are many others working towards a global clean energy transition. At Loughborough, the Centre for Sustainable Transitions: Energy, Environment and Resilience (STEER) levers UK government funding in a portfolio of research which includes climate change adaptation and climate-resilient development.

This is reflected in postgraduate education, with our Climate Change Master’s programmes delivering the kind of energy and economic modelling skills for sustainable development that will help developing countries close the climate finance gap which will be under scrutiny at COP28.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 23/174

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings – the sixth year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.