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COP 28 Was a Hotbed of Disagreements and Controversy, But Proved Essential to Climate Action

This year, the UN Climate Conference (COP28) took place from November 30 to December 12. 197 nations from around the world gathered in Dubai to discuss pressing environmental topics for the 28th time. The question of the year: Will the level of urgency and action expressed by physical symptoms of climate change be able to make this conference the beacon of climate hope in the heart of an oil territory? Or would COP 28 just become another in a long series of fruitless conferences? 

A COP 28 UAE flag in a hall during deliberations. (Hannes P. Albert/dpa via Reuters Connect via the Brookings Institution)


The president of the conference, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, was the first CEO to hold the position. His title brought controversy, however, as he is the CEO of both Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Masdar Energy, representing fossil fuel and clean energy resources. Some attendees of the climate conference questioned his motives, claiming that Al Jaber may be using this opportunity as a business venture. In May, a group of US Senators and European Union lawmakers demanded a replacement for Al Jaber. However, no resolution was reached. 

Aligning with his controversial business background is his even more controversial idea that the fossil fuel industry has a right to participate in the discussions. But for advocates for a complete switch to clean energy, like the ambitious European Union, this plan was dangerous. 

Overall, in past conferences, Al Jaber has been said to be an “outcome-focused” participant, and claims he will carry that same perspective for the COP28 — something desperately needed this time around. 

Without replacement, his agenda follows the pressing environmental issues of today: the reformation of climate finances by 2025, a greater focus on climate disasters, and a decrease in emissions to keep up with the ever-approaching 2030 goal of keeping global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius (above pre-industrial levels). 

Climate Funding 

Climate funding has emerged as a point of contention since developed nations have yet to follow through on their lofty promises to support their developing peers in climate action, despite rapidly approaching deadlines.

More than a decade ago, at COP 16 in Copenhagen, Denmark, countries decided that developed nations would contribute a total of $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing nations in their climate action plans. Five years later, at COP 21 in Cancún, Mexico, they extended the deadline until 2025. This year, complaints arose before that cutoff year. 

Latin America has created an alliance on the issue for the first time, led by Columbia’s environmental minister, Susana Muhammad. Muhammad believes the allocated funds have only done a “fraction of enough” for Columbia and neighboring countries. Amidst the current El Niño spike — creating drought, flooding, and food shortages — the group has doubled down on their urgency. “I wouldn't settle on a figure, but rather that mechanisms be made available for the scale of the problem,” Muhammad said.

Her claims come from frustrations with both the way countries designate climate funding and the lack of money itself.

Since its establishment, the $100 billion per year plan has not cracked the target amount even once. The UN has yet to gather over $10 billion in 2023, with only two weeks left in the year. 

Suspiciously low numbers have caused large contributors, such as Germany, to criticize the plan’s makeup. German development minister, Svenja Schulze, commented, “I also increasingly see countries that are not traditional donors as having responsibility: for example the Gulf states, which have become rich from fossil fuels, or emerging countries like China.” Schulze’s perspective of the flaws of the system itself is a popular one. He points out that some countries asked to contribute money, such as the Gulf States, do not share the same environmental priorities. 

In addition, the world’s largest polluters — China, the United States, and Russia — do not contribute significant amounts of money, despite being also among the world’s largest economies.


The Big Deadline: 2030

The importance and urgency of climate finance reform come from the 2030 deadline set by international leaders during the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. The UN created 2030 deadlines for both a 1.5 degrees Celsius limit to increasing temperatures and their Sustainable Development Goals, which include 17 points for progress, including environmental and civil reforms, such as making clean energy more affordable, creating cleaner cities, establishing responsible consumption, and conserving marine resources. 

An estimate given by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN’s chief climate body, calculated that $200-250 billion would have to be spent each year for the next six years, figures that are astronomically higher than the meager $10 billion in 2023. 

Researchers have also recently implemented an “inventory test” called The Global Stocktake (GST), which draws on the collaborative thoughts of scientists, businesspeople, and communities in their experience of the progress of climate action in order to identify areas of assistance. Taken from two years of data analysis and technical dialogue, the GST intends to inform decisions made at COP 28 about the next round of climate action plans. “It enables countries and other stakeholders to see where they’re collectively making progress toward meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement – and where they’re not,” said the UNFCCC in a statement.

On September 8, the first report was released, stating that “since its adoption, the Paris Agreement has driven near-universal climate action,” but emphasizing that “much more is needed now on all fronts.” 

The report breaks down several aspects of climate action for which the Paris Agreement planned, including mitigation and response measures, adaptation and damage loss, and financial support. Although the report recognizes the already-made progress, it concludes that nothing has been nearly enough. The report can be read in full here


COP 28 became a conference of high hopes and uncertainties, serving as an indicator of global political interest in climate action. Both an overview of the GST and climate finance negotiation became important points during the conference’s first week, including daily programs, live streaming, and blog posts on the UNFCCC website. 

Though leaders from the world’s highest polluters were not in attendance, environmentalists policymakers alike joined behind nations and the EU to push big initiatives, including a deadline to phase out fossil fuels completely by 2050, scaling climate finance, and a full deployment of the Loss and Damage Fund — their major project. 

Now that the conference is over, the emphasis shifts to the countries themselves, ensuring they implement their plans and goals. It becomes the role of citizens to hold their governments accountable to their promises, entering the next phase of climate action.


“COP28 Climate Summit in Dubai: What to Expect.” Council on Foreign Relations. November 21, 2023.

“The Global Stocktake Says Climate Action Isn’t Happening Fast Enough. We Need Bolder Actions Come COP28.” ClimateWorks Foundation, September 15, 2023.

Alkousaa, Riham, and Kate Abnett. “Shortfall in Climate Change Cash Grows Ahead of COP28.” Reuters, October 5, 2023.

Alkousaa, Riham and Kate Abnett. “UN Green Climate Fund Pledges Reach $9.3 Bln in Second Replenishment Round.” Nasdaq. October 5, 2023.$9.3-bln-in-second-replenishment-round.

“30 November - 12 December 2023 UN Climate Change Conference - UNFCCC.” Schedule. Accessed December 12, 2023.

“Technical dialogue of the first global stocktake.” FCCC/SB/2023/9. UNFCCC, September 8, 2023.


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