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A person walks near signs for the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on Nov. 28.Peter Dejong/The Associated Press

This week leaders and diplomats from nearly 200 countries will gather in Dubai for COP, the annual United Nations climate conference. During the conference, which runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, nations will take stock of their progress on meeting their climate targets and try to draft plans to phase-out fossil fuels.

The 28th annual conference begins against a backdrop of rising greenhouse gas emissions, which reached record highs in 2022, and geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and Ukraine.

Here’s what you need to know about COP, the controversy surrounding this year’s summit, and what Canada will pledge.

What is COP28?

COP28 refers to the 28th annual UN Conference of the Parties, which first met in Berlin in 1995. COP is the main decision-making body of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an agreement between 197 signatories to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system.” The parties include 196 countries and the European Union.

What happens at COP?

COP is a forum for countries to engage in negotiations and debates about global progress on reducing emissions and plans to limit climate change. A critical aspect of the summit is a review of the contributions of each of the parties, including as it relates to annual emissions inventories. COP is also an opportunity for political leaders to have discussions on climate action, including during the world leaders’ summit. Around 70,000 delegates, which include negotiators and media, will attend this year’s COP, as well as climate activists and protesters.

Where is COP28 being held?

COP28 will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates – the world’s fifth-largest oil producer – and will be held in Dubai from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12. Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber was appointed as the president-designate, a decision roundly criticized by climate activists because he serves as the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. – the UAE’s national oil company. The company is seeking to boost its production of carbon-emitting crude oil and natural gas. Ahead of COP28, an investigation by BBC and the Centre for Climate Reporting found that the UAE planned to discuss possible natural gas and other commercial deals with at least 27 governments.

The conference has also garnered criticism about its treatment of migrant workers. According to an investigation by the human rights reseach group FairSquare, migrant workers from Asia and Africa have been working outdoors in extreme heat to build facilities for the conference, in violation of UAE laws.

What are the goals of COP28?

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A villager holding an umbrella to protect himself from sun, walks over parched land on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, India on May 2, 2009. It's expected that countries will finalize the 'loss and damage' fund, which would compensate poor countries suffering from climate-change events.Biswaranjan Rout/The Associated Press

COP28 will include the first formal assessment of countries’ progress towards the 2015 Paris Agreement’s target to limit the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This review, which is called the global stocktake, will increase pressure on major emitters to update their actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Another goal of COP28 was finalizing “the loss and damage” fund, which delegates adopted on the first day of the conference on Nov. 30. The fund will compensate poor countries suffering from climate-change events. Several countries announced pledges to the fund, including $100-million from host country United Arab Emirates, at least $51-million from Britain, $17.5-million from the United States and $10-million from Japan. The European Union pledged $245.39-million.

“Loss and damage” refers to payments required for reconstruction after climate-related disasters, such as floods. It is separate from climate-change mitigation and adaptation financing, which was launched at the Paris conference in 2015 and is supposed to pay out US$100-billion a year to vulnerable countries, but has always come up short.

Ahead of COP28, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the summit is an opportunity for nations to “decide the phase-out of fossil fuels in an adequate time frame”, to commit to more renewable energy projects and improve the energy efficiency of existing electrical grids and technologies.

Who will attend COP28?

Diplomats and leaders from nearly 200 countries will be attending the summit in Dubai. King Charles will give the opening speech, along with UN secretary general, António Guterres, and the UAE president, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Pope Francis was scheduled to deliver a speech, but was forced to cancel owing to illness.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not indicated that he will attend. Environment minister Steven Guilbeaut will lead the Canadian delegation, which also includes parliamentarians, Indigenous representatives, youth and business groups. Also attending are Alberta’s Danielle Smith and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, two of the most outspoken critics of the federal government’s climate policies, including its carbon tax policy and net-zero energy grid target.

U.S. President Joe Biden will not attend the world leaders’ summit, nor will Xi Jinping of China. Both countries will send delegations, which include Special Envoy John Kerry, climate advisor Ali Zaidi, and senior advisor John Podesta for the Americans, and Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang and climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua for the Chinese.

Oil and gas companies, as well as other people and organizations connected to fossil fuels, also have a strong presence and influence at the conference, which draws criticism from environmentalists and climate experts. At last year’s summit in Egypt, around 400 people connected to the fossil fuel industry attended the event.

What climate pledges will Canada make at COP28?

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The federal government hopes to reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.David Goldman/The Associated Press

The cornerstone of Canada’s COP28 climate plan is new regulations and funding around methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that’s 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The federal government hopes to reduce emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. It plans to do this by cutting oil and gas sector emissions by 75 per cent.

The new regulations are expected to mandate that the oil and gas industry update infrastructure to prevent methane leakage through valves and pipes. They are also expected to ban – or restrict – a practice called flaring, where companies burn methane byproduct at the wellhead. Instead, they are being encouraged to capture the gas, so it can be cleaned, compressed and sold as natural gas.

The federal government is also expected to unveil its long-delayed oil and gas sector emissions cap. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said methane and zero-emissions vehicle regulations could be released at COP28. But he cautioned it could take to the end of the year to release all three policies.

Alberta also plans to announce a new grant program to encourage carbon capture projects in the province. The program will be modelled on the Alberta Petrochemicals Incentive Program, which allows for a refunding tax credit of up to 12 per cent of eligible capital costs once projects are operational.

What plans have the European Union, the U.S. and other countries announced ahead of COP28?

European Union countries are preparing to push for a global deal on phasing out fossil fuels. So are 131 companies, which have nearly $1-trillion in global annual revenues. France, backed by the United States, plans to propose a ban on private financing for coal-based power plants, which will likely deepen divisions at COP28. India and China are opposed to any attempts to block construction of coal-fired power stations.

More than 130 companies, including Nestle, Unilever, Mahindra Group and Volvo Cars, are also urging political leaders to agree to a timeline to phase out fossil fuels at COP28.

With reports from Kate Helmore, Marieke Walsh, Emma Graney, Adam Radwanski and Eric Reguly

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