COP28 climate summit opens in Dubai in hottest year on record

Civil Societies, under the umbrella of Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), in collaboration with Slow Food Kenya taking part in a local climate caravan in Nakuru City on November 14, 2023, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28). [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The annual United Nations climate talks were officially opened yesterday. The conference, known as COP28, brings together thousands of leaders from around the world, including top government and business officials, scientists and activists. 

What is COP28? 

COP stands for 'Conference of the Parties', referring to signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change — an agreement signed by over 150 governments in 1992.

COP28 is the 28th annual summit bringing their representatives together to seek agreement on goals and strategies to address the climate crisis.

When and where is COP28 being held?

COP28 officially began yesterday, November 30, and runs through December 12.

The COP28 summit is being held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Hosting duties for the annual summits rotate between different continents and major regions around the world.)

Who is attending COP28? 

About 70,000 participants are expected, including various heads of state, climate envoys, business leaders, lobbyists, indigenous groups, activists, protesters and others. 

President William Ruto is attending together with other African heads of state including Macky Sall (Senegal), Denis Sassou Nguesso (Congo), Mohamed Ould Ghazouani (Mauritania), Azali Assoumani (Comoros, and the current president of the African Union), Faustin-Archange Touadéra (Central African Republic), Umaro Sissoco Embaló (Guinea-Bissau), Ismail Omar Guelleh (Djibouti), Felix Tshisekedi (DRC), Nana Akufo-Addo (Ghana), South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa and Nigeria’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

President Biden spoke at COP27 last year but is not planning to attend COP28 this year. Vice President Kamala Harris and US climate envoy John Kerry are leading the US delegation. Chinese President Xi Jinping is also not expected to attend, but India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be there.

China, the US, and India are the world's top three emitters of planet-warming greenhouse gases. 

Climate change priorities and challenges

The annual talks come as climate scientists warn the planet is increasingly experiencing climate disaster and approaching or reaching 'tipping points' for irreversible harm as ice melts, sea levels rise and more extreme conditions fuel drought, wildfires and floods.

The World Meteorological Department reported that 2023 has been the planet's warmest year on record. 

Progress by countries to cut emissions has been very slow and inadequate, failing to reach the goals they set in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. A report released last week by the UN warned that, under current policies, warming could reach 3 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average by the end of the century — a level that would devastate the global population. 

At COP28, diplomats from nearly 200 countries are attempting to agree on a plan to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. The big debate is whether a final agreement will call for a 'phase out' of fossil fuels or use the lighter language of a 'phase down'. The final agreement is expected towards the end of the two-week conference.

What COP28 means to Kenya

Kenya's participation in COP28 holds great significance against the backdrop of the ongoing floods sweeping across the nation due to El Nino phenomenon. As the country grapples with the immediate impacts of extreme weather events, the summit offers a critical platform for Kenya to address its vulnerabilities and advocate for international support.

The occurrence of flash floods, widespread flooding in low-lying areas, rivers overflowing, and landslides underscores the urgent need for global collaboration and swift action to address climate change.

The summit provides a platform for Kenya to advocate for policies that address the specific needs arising from ongoing floods and other climate-related crises. Furthermore, the Kenyan delegation aims to use the global stage to attract international support, funding, and technological assistance to bolster its efforts in managing the current floods and preparing for future climate-related challenges.

Expectations for COP28

Expectations are low, given general inaction on cutting emissions and China signaling it won't agree to a 'phaseout of fossil fuels'. However, the US and China — the world's two top polluters — have recently re-engaged on climate, saying they will push to "pursue efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030" to accelerate the substitution of coal, oil and gas. 

One expected outcome of the summit is the first 'global stocktake', which is the first assessment since the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 of how nations are doing in efforts to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Climate Science shows a negative trajectory as warming has already reached 1.2 degrees Celcius, and global emissions are still rising. The stocktake could recommend ambitious action to more quickly curb emissions.