Climate Change

COP28: What pivotal issues will define the summit's agenda?

The toughest talks at COP28 may focus on the future role of fossil fuels, and whether countries should commit to start phasing out the use of CO2-emitting coal, oil and gas.

The toughest talks at COP28 may focus on the future role of fossil fuels, and whether countries should commit to start phasing out the use of CO2-emitting coal, oil and gas. Image: Pexels/Emiliano Arano

Kate Abnett
Reporter, Reuters
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  • Countries are expected to update their national emissions-cutting targets and plans by 2025.
  • The toughest talks at COP28 may focus on the future role of fossil fuels, and whether countries should commit to start phasing out the use of CO2-emitting coal, oil and gas.
  • Countries will consider setting goals to triple renewable energy capacity and to double energy savings by 2030.
  • Tackling climate change and its consequences will take an astonishing amount of investment - far more than the world has budgeted so far.

Following a year of record heat and drought, this year's U.N. climate summit will feature a contentious set of issues for countries working to find common ground in tackling climate change, including whether to phase out fossil fuels and how to finance the energy transition in developing countries.

Here are the key issues in the two-week COP28 negotiations starting Nov. 30 in Dubai.

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Taking stock of climate progress

The main task at COP28 is a first-time assessment of countries' progress towards meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement's goal of limiting the global temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, while aiming for 1.5C.

With global efforts lagging, countries will try during this "global stocktake" to agree on a plan to get the world on track to meet climate goals, which could include urgent steps towards cutting CO2 emissions or boosting green technology investments.

As the COP28 talks begin, countries are at odds over whether this exercise should put the onus on all countries or just the world's wealthiest countries to do more because they released the most planet-warming emissions historically.

Countries are expected to update their national emissions-cutting targets and plans by 2025.

Future of fossil fuels

The toughest talks at COP28 may focus on the future role of fossil fuels, and whether countries should commit to start phasing out the use of CO2-emitting coal, oil and gas.

Countries agreed at COP26 to phase down the use of coal, but they have never agreed to quit all fossil fuels - the main source of planet-warming emissions.

The United States, European Union and many climate-vulnerable countries are insisting on a final COP28 deal that commits countries to phase out fossil fuels. But the Group of 20 failed to agree on this point at their summit in July, and countries including Russia have said they would oppose a fossil fuel phase-out.

While the UAE's incoming COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber has said the phase down of fossil fuels is "inevitable", countries are waiting to see if the UAE will push other oil-rich nations to back the idea at COP28. Jaber has faced criticism for his dual role as head of the UAE's state-owned oil and gas company ADNOC, and incoming president of the climate talks.

Technologies to tackle emissions

The UAE and other countries whose economies are dependent on fossil fuels want COP28 to include a focus on nascent technologies designed to capture and store CO2 emissions underground.

A person walks past a
A person walks past a Image: REUTERS/Amr Alfiky/File Photo

While the International Energy Agency says these emissions-abatement technologies are crucial for meeting global climate goals, they are also expensive and not currently used on a large scale. The EU and others worry they will be used to justify continued fossil fuel use.

Boosting clean energy capacity

Countries will consider setting goals to triple renewable energy capacity and to double energy savings by 2030 - a proposal made by the European Union, United States and the UAE's COP28 presidency.

This looks set to win broad support, with G20 major economies including China already backing the renewables goal. But the EU and some climate-vulnerable countries insist on pairing this pledge to boost renewables with phasing out fossil fuels, setting up a clash.

Financing for the costs of climate change

Tackling climate change and its consequences will take an astonishing amount of investment - far more than the world has budgeted so far.

Developing countries will need at least $200 billion every year by 2030 to adapt to worsening climate impacts like coastal sea rise or storms, according to the U.N.. Additionally, they will need funding to help replace polluting energy with clean sources.

There are also the costs of the damage already being caused by climate disasters. At COP28, countries will be tasked with setting up a "loss and damage" fund to help with this, which developing nations say should unlock at least $100 billion by 2030.

These enormous price tags make the U.N. climate talks tense.

Vulnerable nations want more money spent on adapting to a world that is sure to become warmer over the next few decades. They want wealthy nations, whose past CO2 emissions largely caused climate change, to pay up.

The EU and U.S. have said they will put money in the climate damage fund at COP28, but they also talk about the need for private finance to help. Wealthy countries also face pressure to prove they have met an overdue climate funding pledge to provide $100 billion per year to developing countries.

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'side deals'

Outside of the official U.N. negotiations, governments and companies will be making their own announcements.

The United Arab Emirates plans to launch a voluntary pledge from oil and gas companies to cut emissions, in a bid to bring the fossil fuel industry into the climate fight.

Other initiatives set to be announced on the sidelines of COP28 include pledges to curb emissions of the greenhouse gas methane, limit emissions from air conditioning and restrict private finance for coal plants.

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