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Five things to watch out for at Cop28

From loss and damage to King Charles, the key trends and moments at this year's UN climate summit in UAE.

By Megan Kenyon

This week, more than 70,000 delegates will be gathering in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for Cop28. The annual UN climate summit comes towards the end of what is likely to be the hottest year since records began, according to the EU’s Earth observation service, Copernicus.

Tomorrow, the international community will begin almost two weeks of intense discussion on how we can best prevent further global warming. Here’s some key moments and themes to expect.

Bad intentions?

A BBC investigation, in partnership with the Centre for Climate Reporting, has uncovered a raft of pre-Cop briefing documents that reveal how the UAE was planning to use the conference to strike new fossil fuel deals with 15 other countries. The documents show that the UAE’s Cop presidency was also aware of the UK’s plans to roll back on its net zero commitments before they were announced publicly.

The appointment of Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as Cop28 president was controversial from the outset owing to his links to the fossil fuel industry. These revelations have intensified calls for his resignation, and have sparked wider criticism from international climate campaigners. Doing business with other countries while holding the Cop presidency is a serious breach of protocol. Amnesty International’s climate adviser, Ann Harrison said Sultan al-Jaber now “looks ever more like a fox guarding the hen house”.

Gordon Brown’s big ask

A key development at Cop27 in Egypt last year was the agreement to establish a loss and damage fund for low-income countries. The Guardian reported this week that the former Labour prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will lead 70 other international figures to call for all oil-producing states to be subject to a $25bn levy that will help to fund support for those who suffer the impact of climate change. Brown and other signatories (including several former world leaders) have written a letter, which has been sent to Ahmed al-Jaber calling for the levy to be agreed at Cop28.

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Outside Brown’s call for a levy, we can expect the loss and damage fund to be high up the agenda at this year’s conference. The UK government has yet to commit to the fund (the Scottish government, by comparison, said it would provide funding at the Cop26 summit held in Glasgow). You can expect pressure to be mounting both at home and internationally on Rishi Sunak and the Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, Claire Coutinho, to make the UK’s position on loss and damage clear at Cop28.

[See also: At Cop28, the UK must be honest about UAE’s human rights record]

The King’s speech (take two)

Kicking off the conference on Thursday with a keynote speech is King Charles III. The King’s opening address at Cop28 comes less than a month after his inaugural King’s Speech as monarch, in which the committed environmentalist announced his government’s intentions to allow new oil and gas licences. At Cop26 in Glasgow, then as Prince of Wales, the King called for international leaders to adopt a “warlike footing” in the fight against climate change.

The King’s speech and presence in Dubai come at a precarious moment for the UK’s global reputation on climate. The UK was not present at the UN’s climate ambition summit in New York in September. This was also the week Rishi Sunak announced his plans for a net zero roll-back. Not a great look for the UK’s climate credentials internationally.

Labour’s shadow Cop

At an event to mark the 15th anniversary of the Climate Change Act in Westminster, held by the think tank Labour Together on Monday night, the shadow climate change and net zero secretary Ed Miliband shared his thoughts on where the UK is headed on this urgent international challenge.

Miliband was Gordon Brown’s energy and climate change secretary in 2008 when he delivered the act which saw the creation of the Climate Change Committee and yearly Carbon Budgets, among other things. Miliband will be attending Cop28 on behalf of the shadow cabinet later this week. (You can read more about what we might expect from it in our recent report).

Spotlight asked Miliband what a Labour government’s strategy will be to improve UK’s international reputation on climate change. He explained that Labour’s plan would be to lead by example. “People want British leadership, but they don’t want British hypocrisy,” Miliband said, “but what they’ve heard is a government that is very hypocritical. They’ve said one thing and done another.

“This starts with the power of example. This starts with you doing the right thing at home because then people take you seriously when you’re trying to drive the international negotiations forward.”

He explained Labour has shown they can do this through their commitment to no new oil and gas licences and plans for £28bn of green investment. He also pointed to Labour’s plans to form a “Clean Power Alliance” with other countries interested in scaling up renewable, clean energy. The shadow cabinet plans to begin discussions about the alliance at this year’s conference.

Rights record

Writing for us ahead of Cop28, the former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas is urging Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to be honest about UAE’s human rights record at the climate summit this week. After all, she argues, rights abuses and climate breakdown are intrinsically linked.

[See also: Pierre Friedlingstein: There are no “magical climate solutions”]

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