What to expect at COP28: Sealing the deal in Dubai 

Closing plenary of COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt after two weeks of talks, meetings and negotiations.
Closing plenary of COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt after two weeks of talks, meetings and negotiations. Picture by Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street on Flickr.

Over the next few days, the final preparations for COP28 will come to an end. Governments will have confirmed their priority objectives. Diplomats will have sat down with their ministers to agree their negotiating parameters and red lines. World leaders will have put the finishing touches to their speeches. And negotiators will have placed their bets on when the summit will really finish.

The opportunity at COP28 is clear. At the heart of the 28th UN Climate Conference is the agreement countries reach in response to the Global Stocktake (GST). The GST showed clearly, yet again, that the world is not on course to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. COP28 must show how countries intend to get onto the right path. 

Landing this package of outcomes at COP28 requires careful sequencing of diplomacy. While announcements of new policy directions and financing commitments will be peppered throughout the fortnight, we won’t have a sense of the overall progress – or otherwise – that governments have managed to deliver until the final gavel falls. 

E3G’s guide to following and shaping the COP28 diplomatic process 

Topline: everything happens in parallel. Negotiations, side events, leaders’ events and the daily drumbeat of the UAE’s thematic programme (profiling action on health, finance, energy, youth, nature and more) coincide into a hive of activity, much of it rhetoric rather than action.  

What to look out for in Week 1 

Negotiations will progress from Day 1 – assuming an agenda fight can be averted. With over 170 agenda items to cover, there’s plenty to be getting on with. At the June negotiations in Bonn to prepare for COP28, disputes over the agenda weren’t resolved until nearly the final day. As negotiating groups wrestle for control over how much prominence is given to their priorities, delicate diplomacy – especially from the UAE COP28 Presidency – is necessary to avoid a tit-for-tat dynamic which could risk adding even more agenda items.  

COP28’s World Climate Action Summit for heads of state on Days 2 and 3 is an opportunity to begin on a positive note. New commitments on the COP28 stage will help close the perceived gap between rhetoric and action. A series of opt-in global pledges are expected, ranging from the 60+ expected signatories to the UAE and EU-led Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Pledge to a declaration on climate, relief, recovery and peace. But two things will be top of mind for the leaders’ summit moment: 

  • Finance pledges and a strong push behind transforming the financial system to better deliver for climate action. This will be a critical path to building trust between countries to make high ambition agreements. Donor countries that have not yet announced their pledge to the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund (Australia, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, Greece, and of course the USA) should do so. Announcements showing how countries are working together to step up adaptation action and finance will be key too. Particular attention will be paid to pledges to the loss and damage fund set to be operationalised at COP28. Some countries – such as the EU, Germany, and Denmark – have already hinted a pledge is coming. The scale of funding needed according to developing countries is at least $100 billion USD per year. The bare minimum needed to activate the bank account is $200 million USD from at least 3 donors. These metrics will be front of mind when judging the generosity of contributions to the Fund.  
  • A clear mandate for what the negotiations must achieve will be necessary to set the task for negotiators. High-Level Events hosted by the UAE COP28 Presidency supported by the SB Chairs and Egyptian COP27 Presidency are a critical chance for heads of state to give clear instructions on what the outcome at the end of the fortnight needs to look like. A summary of leaders’ messages will be published on 3rd December, serving as a key input to the GST negotiations. Clear calls for action can help translate voluntary pledges by groups of the willing into negotiated outcomes agreed by all – and to which all can be held accountable. 

The first week of negotiations will need to see coalitions of ambition form around core elements of the package. Divisions will be laid bare over whether to include the phase out of fossil fuels, how much guidance is provided to Parties for their next round of NDCs due in 2025, where to place the emphasis in terms of the sources of finance that must be scaled up to enable climate action, and how to fairly reflect equity and historical responsibility in the text. Governments in Dubai could immediately put their stamp of approval on the recommendations on setting up the loss and damage fund from the Transitional Committee last month. Doing so would ensure that this fragile but important consensus is not reopened. Other priorities will likely demand ministerial attention to find consensus including the framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation and efforts to make substantive decisions on shaping the new climate finance goal set to be finalised at COP29 next year. 

What to look out for in Week 2 

In the second half of Week 2, all eyes will be on the UAE Presidency to see how they work with ministers to reach agreement. COP26 ended with a dramatic fight on the floor of the plenary as Parties sought to water down the final deal at the eleventh hour, whereas COP27’s final hours were shrouded in mystery as the Presidency held tight control over draft texts. Backroom shuttle diplomacy leading up to the dying days of COP is always a black box. The strength of coalitions of ambition will be tested. 

Without a crystal ball, whether proponents of an ambitious COP28 package will succeed is anyone’s guess. It is easy to think that, amid the brutal devastation ongoing in nearby Gaza, nothing could be agreed.  

But there are reasons for optimism. The latest US-China deal shows real desire from the two biggest emitters to cooperate on an ambitious GST outcome. All signals so far seem to be that Parties are willing to maintain the delicate compromise on the Loss and Damage Fund recommendations. Donor governments are confident that the $100bn USD goal was met last year. The EU has firmed up its desire to champion goals to triple renewables and double energy efficiency by 2030, alongside pursuing a phase out of unabated fossil fuels. The High Ambition Coalition – which last year barely formed together over divisions around loss and damage – has this year already shown a willingness of developed and developing countries to work hand-in-hand for a strong COP28.  

None of these things alone guarantee success; but together, they can be the basis for diplomatic efforts to seal the deal in Dubai. 


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