Climate Action

COP28: Why it matters and 5 key areas for action

'Cop28 UAE' logo is displayed on the screen during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) under the theme of 'United on Climate Action Toward COP28', in Abu Dhabi, UAE, January 16, 2023. REUTERS/Rula Rouhana

Accelerating the energy transition inclusively and sustainably remains high on the agenda at COP28. Image: REUTERS/Rula Rouhana

Pedro Gomez
Head, Climate; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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COP28

  • COP28 is the next meeting of the group of 198 countries that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, taking place in the United Arab Emirates from 30 November-12 December 2023.
  • It has been organized around four cross-cutting themes aimed at tackling the causes of climate change and managing the impacts of a warming planet.
  • Climate change is ranked in the top 10 threats in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Risks Report.
  • Here's what to understand about the UN Climate Summit and why it's so important.

As world leaders and climate experts make their final preparations for the COP28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the latest data on the global climate serves as an urgent call to action.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded the warmest September globally in its extensive history of compiling data. But September 2023 was no anomaly. The NOAA said the planet’s surface temperature throughout 2023 is the highest it has ever recorded and there is now a 99% probability it will end as the warmest year on record.

Figure illustrating september's global temperatures compared to average, 1850-2023.
September 2023 temperatures rose high above the 20th-century average. Image: Climate Gov/NOAA

"September 2023 was the fourth month in a row of record-warm global temperatures,” said NOAA Chief Scientist Dr Sarah Kapnick. “Not only was it the warmest September on record, it was far and away the most atypically warm month of any in NOAA’s 174 years of climate keeping. To put it another way, September 2023 was warmer than the average July from 2001-2010."

COP28, which will be held in the UAE from 30 November-12 December 2023, has been organized around four cross-cutting themes aimed at tackling the causes of climate change and managing the impacts of a warming planet: Technology and Innovation; Inclusion; Frontline Communities and Finance. We’ll have a deeper dive into the COP28 agenda below, but first a quick reminder about the history of COP.

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What are COP summits?

The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the group of nations that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was put together in 1992. It commits them to act together to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system”. Since then the Parties, or nations, have met almost annually.

The most recent one, COP27, was held in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh in November 2022. It brought together over 100 heads of state and representatives from almost 200 countries. The headline outcome was an agreement to provide loss and damage funding for countries vulnerable to, or already suffering the worst impacts of climate change. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres hailed the agreement as “an important step towards justice”. Other commitments included a pledge to stick to the 1.5°C target for limiting global temperature rises and pivoting from climate pledges to climate action.

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Major priorities for COP28

1: The first global stocktake on climate action progress

The majority of agreed international climate targets are embedded within the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Less than three months ahead of COP 28, the UN Secretary-General warned the world was “woefully off-track” with progress towards meeting the goals.

Image: Twitter/@antonioguterres

At the halfway point for meeting climate goals by the target date of 2030, COP28 will host a “global stocktake” to measure progress in detail, identify areas of failure and reinvigorate commitment to ensure climate pledges are turned into action.

2: Speeding the energy transition

Reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels will be critical to keeping the 1.5°C target alive. As leaders gather at COP28 the data on emissions is still heading in the wrong direction. Greenhouse gas emissions are now at an all-time high, according to a study published in the journal Earth System Science Data. The same study says the rate of emissions is slowing but the target set in the Paris Agreement is in immediate jeopardy. “This is a critical decade: human-induced global warming rates are at their highest historical level, and 1.5 ∘C global warming might be expected to be reached or exceeded within the next 10 years,” the report states.

Accelerating the energy transition inclusively and sustainably will sit high on the agenda at COP28. Discussions will focus on the rapid scaling up of renewable energy, how innovations like hydrogen fuels and carbon capture technologies can help reduce emissions. At the same time, delegates will look for pathways to ensure the energy transition benefits developing nations and minority communities in equal measure, to deliver a just transition that leaves nobody behind.

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3: Putting people at the heart of climate action

Climate change is already impacting human health across the world. Air pollution blights lives in cities and millions in developing countries live with water shortages or supplies that are a danger to health.

For the first time at a COP summit, a full day of the agenda has been devoted to initiatives designed to “protect lives and livelihoods and support community resilience and stability” in the face of the advancing effects of climate change. High-level discussions will take place around health, relief, recovery and peace. There will also be a focus on regions of the world consumed by conflict and beset by a range of issues that make climate mitigation and adaptation extremely difficult.

4: Climate finance and the impact of global trade

Historically, global trade has been a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – with production and distribution responsible for around 25% of global emissions. Trade Day at COP28 will explore the potential for trade to reduce emissions across the value chain and grow markets for climate-friendly products such as electric vehicles and non-plastic packaging.

The World Economic Forum is partnering with the UAE, the UN trade body UNCTAD, the World Trade Organization and the International Chamber of Commerce to shape the debate at the COP28 Trade Day.

Providing equitable financing for climate action and adaptation will be critical in keeping 1.5°C alive. Many developing countries are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis and are struggling to access the adaptation and mitigation funding they need. COP 28 will dedicate a day to climate finance in an attempt to ensure affordable sustainable development finance is available to all stakeholders.

The Forum will convene governments, industry and philanthropy leaders at the summit to announce multiple public-private philanthropic partnerships. In addition to the financial aspects of food and agriculture, and the nature ecosystems pillars, the Forum is also working with the COP28 Presidency to explore potential outcomes for financing the net zero transition.

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5: Broader leadership on climate change

COP28 will also look to engage a broader range of leaders to convert climate pledges into action. The COP28 Local Climate Action Summit will bring together hundreds of mayors, governors and leaders from business and NGOs who play a critical role in implementing climate policy at city and regional levels in their home countries.

Recognizing the impact these sub-national leaders can deliver, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Cities are where the climate battle will largely be won or lost. We all need to push further and faster; keep collaborating, innovating and raising ambition. Mobilizing and equipping local governments with the capacity and financing to accelerate climate action is necessary if we are to bend the emissions curve.”

COP28 President-designate Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber added: “City leaders have been at the forefront of climate action – accelerating ambition, delivering results and dealing with climate impacts in real-time. By bringing hundreds of local leaders to COP28, we will foster new, multi-level partnerships to help fast-track the energy transition, fix climate finance, focus on people, lives and livelihoods, and make sure local voices are heard at the international climate table.”

Looking ahead to the next 10 years, climate and environmental risks dominate global risk perception, with failure to mitigate climate change the most pressing, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2023.

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