Why an oil kingdom is hosting the COP28 climate summit and other questions answered. The global climate conference starts in the UAE on Nov. 30. Here are the big issues, who will be in Dubai, and what’s at stake.

November 28, 2023

Originally posted by The Washington Post. Written by .

Tens of thousands of people from around the world will descend on Dubai this week for the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The United Arab Emirates, a major oil producer, is hosting this year’s summit, known as COP28. It comes as top scientists warn the world is far off track from meeting its climate goals.

Here’s what to know, and why it matters:

What is COP?

COP stands for “Conference of the Parties,” with the word “parties” referring to the nearly 200 countries that agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992.

Diplomats from these nations have been meeting every year since 1995. This marks the 28th time they have met, hence COP28.

When is COP28?

The summit is officially scheduled to run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12. But these climate talks often stretch into overtime, as negotiators haggle over unresolved issues.

Where is COP28?

The conference will take place at Expo City Dubai, which bills itself as a futuristic “mini-city” with apartments, restaurants and other attractions. The venue is southwest of the center of Dubai, a city of many climate contradictions, with indoor ski slopes miles from massive solar parks.

Who will and won’t attend this year?

Scores of world leaders, with varying climate records, have said they will be there. They include Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has vowed to halt deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who recently delayed U.K. climate goals because of concerns about their costs.

Pope Francis, who warned last month that “the world in which we live is collapsing,” has confirmed plans to attend COP28. So has King Charles III.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to skip the summit, although Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang and Chinese climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua plan to participate. With the war in Ukraine still raging, Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to be another no-show.

President Biden will not attend a world leaders’ summit Friday and Saturday at the outset of COP28, according to the official White House schedule released Sunday. It is unclear whether Biden will travel to Dubai for the second week of the negotiations, when other world leaders probably will have left.

What is expected at COP28?

The main agenda item is the “global stocktake,” an assessment of whether the world is on track to meet the goal of the Paris agreement. The stocktake happens every five years, and each time so far, diplomats have concluded that the world is woefully off track.

The thorniest agenda item, however, is negotiations over a new fund to compensate poor countries for “loss and damage” — U.N. jargon for the ravages of global warming. At last year’s summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, wealthy nations reached a historic agreement to establish this fund. But since then, they have failed to agree on who will pay into the fund, and by how much.

Negotiators also are expected to clash over whether the final COP28 deal calls for phasing out fossil fuels, the main driver of global warming. Major oil-producing countries are likely to resist language about a fossil fuel phaseout and push for language about the importance of carbon-capture technology, which sucks carbon dioxide from polluting facilities and stores it deep underground. (Many climate activists view this technology as a false climate solution that prolongs the life of fossil fuel infrastructure for decades to come.)

Why is an oil kingdom hosting COP28?

Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., is the president of COP28. (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

The United Nations rotates the location of COPs each year through five regions: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Europe. This year, it was the Asia-Pacific group’s turn to host, and the United Arab Emirates made an unopposed bid in May 2021.

Sultan Al Jaber — who chairs the UAE’s renewable energy arm and is also chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. — is heading up this year’s talks.

Why does the host country matter?

The host plays a key role in corralling all of the delegations to agree on a “cover decision” — a political document that signals a consensus among nearly 200 nations.

When past conferences have culminated in successful outcomes, the hosts have typically spent at least a year preparing for the negotiations, meeting with key world leaders and ironing out any differences.

Which country will host the next COP?

The United Nations usually chooses the host well in advance so that the country can prepare for an influx of tens of thousands of delegates. For instance, the UAE was selected as the host in 2021.

But U.N. officials have not announced where COP29 will be held, largely because of geopolitical tensions over the war in Ukraine. Although it is Eastern Europe’s turn to host, Russia has voiced strong opposition to holding the summit in a European Union country, while warring neighbors Azerbaijan and Armenia have blocked each other’s bids.

That means the next global summit to save the planet is currently leaderless.

“Usually the host is nominated in advance of the COP, and the decision approving the selection is just a formality,” said Alden Meyer, a senior associate at the climate think tank E3G who has attended 26 of 27 COPs so far.

“But this year, tensions over Ukraine in the Eastern European U.N. region have blocked agreement on a COP presidency,” he said. “It’s not clear how this will be resolved.”

What has happened at past COPs?

Demonstrators participate in a protest against fossil fuels at the COP27 Summit last November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (Peter Dejong/AP)

Many diplomats and experts say these summits have a long — if mixed — history of achievement.

The 1997 COP in Japan resulted in the Kyoto Protocol, which for the first time delineated the legal obligations of rich nations to reduce their emissions. The 2015 COP in France resulted in the Paris climate accord, which calls for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

The 2021 COP in Scotland was also considered a success, with nations making a string of bold pledges to further reduce their emissions. Many activists, however, now see Glasgow as a summit of false promises, since major economies are not on track to meet their targets set two years ago.

Last year’s COP in Egypt nearly ended in failure, but was salvaged by the late-hour agreement on creating the “loss and damage” fund.

Why do we keep holding COPs if countries keep missing their climate targets?

Supporters say these summits remain the world’s biggest annual opportunity to get global leaders in the same room to discuss climate change. They see the meetings as vital for accelerating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and protecting nations that are most vulnerable to climate change, many of them in the Global South.

Critics, however, note that greenhouse gas emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere have continued to soar since 1995, when these meetings began. Greenhouse gas levels set a record in 2022, with “no end in sight,” the World Meteorological Organization said this month. Detractors also argue that these summits have been heavily influenced by large numbers of lobbyists and representatives from the fossil fuel industry that have attended over the years.

Even so, the world has seen some notable progress since the Paris accord was adopted in 2015.

In 2014, before the treaty’s adoption, the world was on track to heat up by nearly 4C (7.2F) by the end of the century, an outcome widely seen as catastrophic. Today, countries’ strongest climate pledges would put the planet on a path to warm by 2.5C (4.5F) by 2100, the United Nations said last week.