What is Dubai Cop28? UAE climate change summit controversy, Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer plans revealed

The Cop28 climate summit has opened in Dubai, with Rishi Sunak, Keir Starmer and King Charles all attending.
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Rishi Sunak has landed at the Cop28 summit in Dubai and will announce £1.6 billion of UK funding towards global climate projects.

The Prime Minister and Keir Starmer are both in the UAE to take part in talks and meetings, while King Charles III addressed the conference this morning (1 December). This is the 28th UN-organised climate summit, which aims to accelerate action to tackle global warming.

The location of Dubai has been controversial given the UAE is one of the world's biggest exporters of oil. Sunak will likely come under pressure from fellow leaders after he watered down several of the UK's net zero policies. It comes as 2023 was declared the hottest year on record.

But what is Cop, will anything get achieved and what are Sunak and Starmer hoping to achieve?

What is Cop28 and what does it stand for?

Cop28 is a UN climate summit held in Dubai's Expo City. Its aim is to “accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement”, a treaty aimed at keeping the rise in global temperatures to below 2C, adopted in 2015.

The first Cop summit - dubbed “Cop1” - was held in Berlin, Germany back in 1995 - since then we’ve seen Cop26 in Glasgow in 2022, and last year's Cop27 taking place in Egypt. The acronym stands for Conference of Parties, as governments and environmental groups from across the globe come together to, in theory, work towards a greener future.

Under the Paris Agreement, parties are required to attend such conferences at least once every five years, under a process colloquially known as the 'ratchet mechanism', designed to “ratchet up ambition to mitigate climate change”.

Rishi Sunak, right, and Keir Starmer are both in Dubai for the Cop28 summit. Credit: Kim Mogg/GettyRishi Sunak, right, and Keir Starmer are both in Dubai for the Cop28 summit. Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty
Rishi Sunak, right, and Keir Starmer are both in Dubai for the Cop28 summit. Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty

Why is Dubai controversial?

The choice of Dubai to host Cop28 has been controversial as the UAE is one of the biggest fossil fuel producers in the world. It is a huge oil exporter and there have been recent allegations the country was planning to use the conference to make commercial oil and gas deals with other countries. Cop28 president Sultan al-Jaber, who is also CEO of UAE’s national oil company Adnoc, has denied this.

Al-Jaber's dual roles have come under fire from climate change campaigners. Christiana Figueres, who played a key role in the Paris agreement, said: "The fact that he thinks the [fossil fuel] energy used today will continue to be part of the global energy mix for the ‘foreseeable future’, I can see that from a UAE perspective.

“But from a Cop president perspective, it’s very dangerous. I just don’t see most countries, and certainly not the vulnerable countries, being willing to support the Cop president on this because it is a direct threat to their survival. When you are the president of the Cop, you cannot put forward the position of the country that you’re coming from. You have to be able to be neutral.”

Rishi Sunak arrives at Cop28. Credit: GettyRishi Sunak arrives at Cop28. Credit: Getty
Rishi Sunak arrives at Cop28. Credit: Getty

What has Rishi Sunak said?

The Prime Minister landed in Dubai in the early hours of the morning as part of a flying visit. He will head back to the UK via private jet tonight. Sunak will give a speech at 11.45am announcing £1.6bn of funding for climate projects. He is also set to meet a number of foreign leaders and hold high-level talks about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. Cabinet ministers David Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, and Claire Coutinho, the Energy Secretary, are joining him.

Downing Street said the money will go towards projects aimed at stopping deforestation, protecting the natural environment and accelerating the global transition to clean and renewable energy. It's hoped this will help keep global warming below the 1.5C target of the Paris Agreement.

Ahead of his speech today, Sunak said: “The world made ambitious pledges at previous Cop summits to limit global warming to 1.5C. But the time for pledges is now over – this is the era for action. We know that the technologies and innovations we need to protect the planet are at our fingertips, from the mighty offshore wind farms powering the UK to the solar energy transforming electricity in Africa.

“The transition to net zero should make us all safer and better off. It must benefit, not burden ordinary families. The UK has led the way in taking pragmatic, long-term decisions at home – and at Cop28 we will lead international efforts to protect the world’s forests, turbocharge renewable energy and leverage the full weight of private finance.”

What is Keir Starmer doing at Cop28?

The Labour leader is spending longer at Cop28 than Rishi Sunak, attending from Thursday to Sunday. He will be joined by Ed Miliband, Labour's Shadow Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, and David Lammy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary. NationalWorld understands that Starmer did not fly by private jet.

He will claim that in a marked shift from Sunak with Labour, “Britain will be back on the world stage” tackling the climate crisis. Starmer is expected to emphasise that the push to net zero is an economic opportunity. He has made the clean energy transition one of Labour's core policies, pledging to spend £28 billion within the first Parliament on a green industrial revolution if they win the next election.

Starmer will say that Labour’s mission to make Britain a clean energy superpower is about pragmatism, not ideology, and will press that cheap renewables like solar and wind are now many times cheaper than gas. He is set to have a series of meetings over two days with heads of states and business leaders, as well as being hosted for an international investors roundtable today.

What do experts say about Cop28?

The main focus of this Cop is to try and keep the global warming temperature until 2050 below the 1.5C aim in Paris. Many experts however think this is almost impossible, with the 2C limit within this century also at risk.

“After 27 Cop conferences, the world is still on a dangerous trajectory," said Professor Joeri Rogelj, Director of Research at Imperial College London's Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. Countries are failing to live up to the targets they have set themselves to keep global warming well below 2 and 1.5C. The implementation of policy needs to be taken seriously and emissions reduction promises have to be delivered.

“At the same time, scientific analysis also shows a glimmer of hope: if progress on renewables and action on all emissions is continued, the year of 2023 might become the year in which global emissions peaked and started on a downward trajectory. This potential milestone should be cemented in the Cop28 outcome, for example, by committing to peaking global emissions before 2025.”

While Kim Fausing, President of energy efficiency company Danfoss, said: "We need to see direct action on energy efficiency from leaders at Cop28 if we are to limit global warming to 1.5C. We have virtually no chance of meeting our future energy needs, and certainly no chance of achieving net zero by 2050 if we don’t radically rethink energy efficiency as a key tool to decarbonize society.”

Fausing called for leaders at Cop to agree to incentivise energy use during times of plentiful renewable energy with dynamic energy pricing, make a plan for electrification and include flexibility in energy policy.

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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