“This month was, in my professional opinion as a climate scientist — absolutely gobsmackingly bananas.”

This is not exactly the kind of sentence you’d expect from a qualified climate expert, a group that prefers the more austere language of hard facts. Yet, these days, “climate scientists are struggling for words,” writes climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. Instead, she’s started replying to questions about the latest extreme weather event or report about how dire things are with: “I am running out of original things to say.” 

The climate crisis has been hard at work throughout 2023. Wildfires in Argentina and Canada. Flooding in India, Cameroon, and Libya. Extreme heat across the US, Europe, and Asia. A cyclone in Myanmar. A tropical storm hitting Japan, Guam, the Philippines, and Taiwan. The list goes on. 

COP28 will take place later this year against this backdrop — one in which the effects of climate change are, to quote Zeke Hausfather, gobsmackingly clear.

This year’s COP is a significant milestone: the first assessment of how countries are faring against emissions-cutting commitments made at Paris in 2015 (known as the Paris agreement). This process is known as the “global stocktake.” 

In case you’re wondering, this global stocktake isn’t going to tell us anything we don’t already know. We are well off track to make the emissions cuts needed to stay within 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Political leaders continue to back the fossil fuel industry even as forests burn, the ocean heats up, permafrost melts, and lives and livelihoods are lost.

According to the Guardian, a diplomat from one developed country said: “It could not be much worse.” Another said: “You could not make this stuff up.”

The timing couldn’t be more crucial. Here’s everything you need to know about COP28 — and why we can’t afford for it to be a flop.

What is a COP?

COP is an annual climate summit convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a climate body of the UN. 

COP stands for Conference of the Parties — meaning a gathering of countries — and 2023 will be the 28th time that it’s taken place. Hence: COP28.

When will COP28 take place?

COP28 will be held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, 2023.

Where will it take place?

In Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Some have been skeptical of this given that the UAE has the third biggest net-zero-busting plans for oil and gas expansion in the world. 

What really goes on at a COP?

It depends. 

When the Paris agreement was signed in 2015, it was agreed that every five years countries would return with more ambitious plans to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions and tackle global warming. The COVID-19 pandemic caused COP to be canceled in 2020, making COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021, one of the “big COPs.” The “small COPs,” held in the intervening years, tend to focus on laying the groundwork for negotiations.

COPs usually open with a ceremonial opening meeting. This is then followed by days of world leaders on stage talking about climate change, generally concentrating either on what their countries intend to do about it or on the dire consequences they are experiencing. The remaining days have themes — such as finance and energy — and see politicians and business leaders stepping up to announce various new promises, pledges, coalitions, and projects.

But outside the doors, activists usually rage against superficial commitments and rally against political inaction. 

This time, there’s been significant outrage after it was leaked to the Guardian that the UAE’s state oil company has been able to read emails to and from the COP28 climate summit office and was consulted on how to respond to a media inquiry.

Remind me, what was agreed at Paris?

Under the landmark Paris agreement at COP21 in 2015, nations committed to holding global heating to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and preferably limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.

Though the deal is legally binding, the commitments that countries have made to cut their emissions are not, unless they are enshrined into national or regional legislation. 

Who takes part?

The attendees at COP are dignitaries and Heads of State and Government as well as tens of thousands of government delegates and representatives of civil society, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, and the media. 

There are 197 parties which are broadly organized in five regional groups: Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Europe and Other States (including Australia, Canada, and the US).

At the cluster of COP side events, climate change leaders, experts, and influencers gather to share their stories and solutions at panel discussions, exhibits, cultural events, and more.

What happened at COP27?

After two weeks of fraught negotiations, a “historic pact” was struck at COP27 in which developed countries, which are historically responsible for the climate emergency, agreed to provide climate finance to help poorer countries experiencing climate-related disasters, known as a loss and damage fund.

Alok Sharma, the UK President of COP26, was more scathing about how the conference fared. “I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak. Unfortunately, it remains on life support,” he said.

What do we want to happen at COP28?

An End to Fossil Fuels

That means support for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty from world leaders to ensure a Just Transition away from fossil fuels, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and robust taxing of remaining fossil fuel production.

Cough Up the Climate Finance 

Now isn’t the time for baby steps, it’s time to go big: fund a Just Transition in all countries, help countries adapt to climate change, and fund loss and damage.

Protect Climate Activists and Environmental Defenders

Almost 2,000 environmental activists have been killed over the past decade. We need a human rights approach to all aspects of climate action.

What can Global Citizens do to help?

Head to our climate action headquarters here to see what actions you can take to make a difference — whether that’s signing petitions urging world leaders and businesses to do better on the climate crisis, sending emails to G20 ministers, or shooting off messages to European countries to support a green transition for all.

Global Citizen Explains

Defend the Planet

COP28: Everything You Need to Know About the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference

By Tess Lowery