What is COP28?

COP 28: What is it and why is it important?

You won’t have been able to miss the event taking place right now in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates: COP28. But you might be wondering, what’s the big deal? Well, let’s dive into the world of the COP and find out why it’s a beacon of optimism for our planet.

COP stands for ‘the Conference of the Parties’. A slightly strange name, but in this case the ‘parties’ are the countries that signed up to the original UN climate agreement in 1992, the ‘United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’ which is abbreviated to the UNFCCC. The first COP took place in 1995 in Berlin and this was the beginning of the 28 year multilateral process that has brought us to COP28 in Dubai. A more detailed timeline can be found here.

The reason that the COP is so important is that it is the only forum that exists that brings together all of these ‘parties’ or countries from around the world, to negotiate an agreement on climate change. This is a particular example of what is often called a ‘multilateral’ process – lots of countries – in this case, almost all – negotiating an outcome, or agreement. Take a look at our COP26 explained video, if you want to find out more about these processes.

In 2015 these annual meetings culminated in the landmark agreement, adopted by 196 countries in Paris at COP21, imaginatively named ‘The Paris Agreement’. Its goal? To hold ‘the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels’ and pursue efforts to ‘limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C’. While these temperature rises do not sound significant, scientists have shown that crossing the 1.5°C threshold risks unleashing far more severe climate change impacts, rising sea levels, melting ice caps and more frequent and severe droughts, heatwaves and rainfall. If you’re interested in reading more about the Paris Agreement, take a look at the UNFCCC website.

Now the task for the COP is implementing that agreement and holding countries to their respective commitments (often referred to as ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’), whilst ensuring that further progress is made to accelerate the transition. If you’d like to understand what these agreements are, here at Wicked Weather Watch we made COP26 ‘Top Trumps’, when the COP was here in the UK. You can purchase a pack here!

The choice of the UAE, and Dr Sultan Al Jaber, as the COP hosts this year, has not been without controversy. The UAE is one of the world’s top 10 oil producing nations and Al Jaber is the CEO of the state-owned oil company, ADNOC. In recent weeks leaked documents suggested that the UAE planned to use its role as hosts of COP28 to agree oil and gas deals, encouraging, rather than discouraging, more fossil fuel extraction.

It won’t be long before we can decide for ourselves whether the UAE has been able to preside over tangible progress. However the first day of the conference has already brought some promising news: agreement on a ‘loss and damage fund’. Wealthy states and major polluters have committed to put millions of dollars in a fund that will be distributed to poorer states affected by climate change.

Christiana Figueres, one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, often talks about the need for stubborn optimism in the face of tackling climate change. We would recommend her podcast, if you would like to learn more about climate action and the latest global developments, with a healthy dose of both ‘Outrage and Optimism’.

While the COP might have flaws, it is also our best hope to achieve progress on tackling the greatest shared challenge we have ever faced. It is an opportunity for our world leaders to show they’re committed to preserving our planet for future generations. And if not, it is a chance for us, as individuals, to hold our Governments to account for the commitments they have made at COP.

Written by Climate Change Communicator, Katie Moss.