DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – More than 60,000 heads of state, activists, community leaders, journalists and other stakeholders are descending on the oil-rich nation of the United Arab Emirates for the United Nations’ annual climate conference.
The Conference of the Parties, otherwise known as COP, will be the 28th meeting of world leaders aimed at stemming the tide of climate change.
During previous COP gatherings, dozens of countries have signed on to agreements meant to wind down the use of fossil fuels and keep global warming below the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
The meeting comes at a crucial time as U.N. reports show the world is not on track to reach critical goals laid out in the landmark Paris Agreement.
"Humanity has opened the gates of hell," warned U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, ahead of the COP28 gathering. "Horrendous heat is having horrendous effect."
The year 2023 is on track to be the warmest year on record, with fears that an El Niño extending into 2024 could lead to the release of more heat.
One of the many impacts of the record warmth has been the lack of sea ice around Antarctica.
Recent data showed ice was at a record low, a figure that was about 579,000 square miles smaller than the average.
"Antarctica has been called the sleeping giant, but it is now being awoken by climate chaos," Guterres. "What happens in Antarctica doesn’t stay in Antarctica. And what happens thousands of miles away has a direct impact right here."
Both the U.N. and the UAE have identified goals that will be the focus of the two-week-long conference.
Unlike previous gatherings where a major policy change or accords garnered headlines, COP28 leaders appear set on emphasizing previous agreements to make sure the framework does not unravel.
According to the U.N., the focus of the latest COP meeting will be how to reinforce and deliver upon agreements settled upon during COP24 in Katowice, Poland; COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland; and COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The United Arab Emirates has stated the main focuses will be fast-tracking energy transition and slashing emissions before 2030, as well as concentrating on the climate’s impact on nature, people and livelihoods.
Meeting sparks controversy
The United Arab Emirates is an oil-rich country and, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, is among the world’s ten largest oil producers, with 3.2 million barrels created a day.
The country’s connection to oil production has been a source of controversy ever since the announcement that it will host COP28.
An investigation by the British Broadcasting Corporation showed that the UAE planned to use meetings to discuss fossil fuel deals with more than a dozen countries.
Responding to the media reports, Greenpeace International, a global network that highlights environmental problems, blasted the UAE leadership team.
"If the allegations are true, this is totally unacceptable and a real scandal," Kaisa Kosonen, a policy coordinator at Greenpeace International, said in a statement. "The climate summit leader should be focused on advancing climate solutions impartially, not backroom deals that are fueling the crisis. This is exactly the kind of conflict of interest we feared when the CEO of an oil company was appointed to the role."
COP28 President and UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Sultan al-Jaber has called the allegations false and inaccurate.