This Covering Climate Now reporting guide is meant to help fellow journalists think through how to cover COP28. We highlight key issues to watch, noteworthy dates, story prompts, and resources to help in your reporting — whether you’re on the ground or covering COP28 from afar.
At COP28, scheduled to take place November 30 to December 12, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, countries will gather to conclude the first-ever “global stocktake,” a process outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement that requires countries to account for their climate progress every five years. Developing countries also want further progress on loss and damage compensation from rich countries for climate impacts and funding for adaptation. Meanwhile, the urgency of the climate crisis is growing clearer every day as extreme weather events become more severe and scientists express alarm that the impacts are accelerating. “Humanity has opened the gates to hell” by overheating the planet, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in September 2023, but “we can still build a world of clear air, green jobs, and affordable clean power for all.”
For additional resources, check out our COP28 landing page, where we’re also curating standout COP28 reporting from our partners throughout the summit. Have insights, ideas, resources we should add? Let us know. We’re all in this together.
What is COP28?
In 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty was agreed to, creating a framework for countries — which the treaty calls “parties” — to cooperate to address climate change; there are now 198 parties to the UNFCCC convention. COPs, short for “Conference of the Parties,” are the UN’s annual global climate change event and a critical forum where world leaders, scientists, business leaders, and civil society meet to negotiate steps to cut global carbon emissions and prepare for climate challenges.
Early controversy. The president of this year’s COP is Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, head of the state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). His appointment drew vocal criticism and has been marked by controversy, with climate activists outraged that an oil executive is in charge, a conflict of interest they say is akin to a fox watching the hen house.
- Al Jaber insists he’s well positioned to lead the summit, arguing that having the oil and gas industry at the table is necessary. Al Jaber is also the UAE’s special envoy for climate change and chairman of the state-owned renewable energy company Masdar.
- In June, the Guardian reported that ADNOC, the UAE’s national oil company that Al Jaber heads, was able to read emails to and from the COP28 office, bolstering criticisms of Al Jaber’s appointment and worry that fossil fuel interests were running the show.
- A directive that press coverage that could “antagonize” the UAE’s monarchies would not be tolerated was removed from the COP28 website after Politico reached out for comment in November.
COP28 agenda. At the summit, Al Jaber plans to focus on what he calls the four Fs: fast-tracking the transition to a low-CO2 world; fixing climate finance; focusing on people, lives, and livelihoods; and full inclusivity. Bookmark the full COP28 thematic program and the overview conference schedule.
Israeli-Hamas war. It remains unclear how the war could impact attendance at COP28 by diplomats and world leaders, lead to inter-country tension, or distract participating governments.
- Global Stocktake
The first assessment of climate progress since the 2015 Paris Agreement will conclude at COP28, part of a process called the “global stocktake,” mandated to happen every five years.
- Stocktake is the main tool to assess the world’s progress on limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and striving for 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. It’s an accounting of global progress on cutting greenhouse emissions, building climate resilience, and disbursement of climate financing.
- According to the UN global stocktake synthesis report released in September, the world is “way off track” in meeting its climate goals and “urgent action” is needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.
- The synthesis report offers a roadmap of climate actions and provides the basis for climate negotiations at COP28.
What to watch. The global stocktake is meant to “ratchet up climate ambition and accelerate implementation” at COP28. How will world leaders and negotiators respond to news that countries’ ambitions are “way off track”?
- Climate Finance
Loss and Damage
At COP27, countries agreed to create a loss and damage fund to compensate low-income countries for the “loss and damage” they’re suffering because of rich countries’ carbon emissions. This fund is separate from the $100 billion a year that rich countries have been legally obligated to pay beginning in 2020 — but have not — to help poor countries limit greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate impacts
- In a draft agreement reached in early November, a UN committee recommended that the fund be housed at the World Bank and developing countries conceded that developed nations would be “urged” but not required to contribute, two of the many points of contention between developed and developing countries.
- Countries will vote on the framework at COP28. That fund is supposed to be operational in 2024.
- The UN is calling for loss and damage funding to reach $200 to 400 billion per year by 2030.
Al Jaber is urging developed countries to “show progress on at least doubling” their adaptation financing by 2025 to help improve developing nations’ resilience to climate impacts.
- Developing countries need $215 to $387 billion each year this decade to help adapt to climate change, according to UN estimates.
- Adaptation investment is “highly cost-effective.” Every $1 billion invested in coastal flooding adaptation measures reduces $14 billion in economic damages, said a November 2023 UN Environment Programme report.
- Last year, rich countries may have finally met their pledge to pay poorer countries $100 billion a year to adapt to climate change, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
What to watch. Which countries are throwing up roadblocks to adaptation and loss and damage financing? How are negotiations playing out over which international institutions will house the loss and damage fund?
- Clean energy
Global emissions need to drop 43% below 2019 levels by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Global emissions are still rising — driven in no small part by hundreds of existing (and planned) “carbon bomb” fossil fuel projects, but could peak as early as this year, finds a Carbon Brief analysis. In an October letter, Al Jaber urged world leaders to “think bigger and implement quicker” to achieve the needed emissions cuts.
- In the letter, Al Jaber called on countries to achieve the goal of “a responsible phase down of unabated fossil fuels” and increase clean energy investments.
- “Unabated” generally refers to fossil fuels burned without using controversial and largely unproven technologies to capture carbon emissions. That approach leaves room for the continued burning of fossil fuels if countries use technology to “abate,” or reduce, resulting emissions.
- The European Union plans to push for a global deal to phase out unabated fossil fuels at COP28.
- In another October letter, over 130 companies called on world leaders to agree to phase out fossil fuels at COP28.
- The pathway to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C “has narrowed in the past two years, but clean energy technologies are keeping it open,” said IEA head Fatih Birol.
What to watch. Which countries will support phasing down and/or phasing out fossil fuels? And which countries will stand in the way? Which countries show real commitment to ramping up clean energy adoption?
COP28 Story Prompts
COPs help determine the climate conditions under which every reader, viewer, or listener, and their loved ones will live. That’s why COP28 isn’t just a global story but a local one, no matter where you live.
We recommend that newsrooms talk to local scientists, activists, and other experts from a variety of backgrounds who can explain how climate action — and inaction — will affect your community. Start coverage early and maintain it throughout the summit; this is a significant and ongoing news event with plenty of angles to explore.
Prompts to help bring the story home:
How do your local government officials and businesses approach the climate crisis? Do they accept climate science or deny it? Do they take climate action or slow-walk solutions and greenwash unsavory activities? What policy actions is your local government taking on climate change?
What does success or failure at COP28 mean for your audience’s lives? A successful summit will boost clean energy, climate-friendly farming, and similar reforms, while darkening prospects for fossil fuels, industrial farming, and similar activities. What would such changes mean for your local economy? What new jobs will become available, and what jobs might disappear? How are civic, business, and political leaders navigating these changes?
Make the connection between powerful bad actors and your audience’s pocketbooks. Fossil fuel companies were aware beginning in the 1970s that burning ever more fossil fuels would catastrophically overheat Earth; their own scientists told them. Today, taxpayers not only subsidize the fossil fuel industry but are on the hook (but mostly don’t know it) for hundreds of billions of dollars in climate damages — in the form of increased flood protections, recovery efforts, health costs, and more.
Dates to Watch
- Recognizing the importance of local leaders in fighting climate, a Local Climate Action Summit will convene on December 1-2.
- For the first time, a day will be dedicated to the impacts of climate on human health and and health systems. December 3.
- A day will be devoted to exploring the critical role of food and its production in addressing climate change. December 10.
- UN Secretary-General António Guterres will report on his plan for a multi-hazard early warning system to be set up within the next five years. Date TBD.
Words of Caution
- Beware cynicism when reporting on COP28. Progress at international summits can be slow, politicians make empty promises, and countries fail to stick to their pledges. Despite this, COPs play a crucial role in raising awareness about climate change, fostering international cooperation, and pushing governments to make climate commitments. As the late Saleemul Huq put it, “This [COP] gathering, once a year, is the only one where we have a seat at the table,” referring to the fact that developing countries do not have a seat on the UN Security Council, the G20, or the G7. “It’s an unlevel playing field, but occasionally we win,” he said, referring to last year’s “big victory” by developing countries at COP27 on the loss and damage fund.
- Beware mis- and disinformation. UN climate summits are prime opportunities for disinformers to impact coverage. Watch CCNow’s press briefing “How to Safeguard Against Mis-/Disinformation at COP28” to prepare.
Climate Reporting Framework
The essential question for news coverage of COP28 is, “What’s at stake?” Here are three themes that can help answer that question:
The 2015 Paris Agreement set the goal of limiting global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees C over pre-industrial–era levels, and preferably to 1.5 degrees C. The need to get as close as possible to 1.5 degrees C was made starkly clear in the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment report released in August 2021.
- The Paris Agreement enshrined 1.5 degrees C as the preferred goal, thanks to demands from the Global South and despite resistance from big emitters.
- We’re at 1.2 degrees C now, and already extreme weather events are far more frequent. Extreme heat waves like the ones that broiled the North American West in 2021 now occur five times as often as they did historically, the IPCC found. If global temperature rise reaches 2 degrees C, they’ll occur 14 times as often.
- November 2022 to October 2023 marked the hottest 12-month period in human history. The world was 1.3 degrees C above average pre-industrial temperatures.
- Hitting 1.5 degrees C might not still be possible — but it’s imperative to come as close as we can. Halting emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other heat-trapping gases quickly enough to stay within the 1.5-degree-C target is still possible in theory. However, it would require “unprecedented, transformational change,” said Ko Barrett, a vice chair of the IPCC. To have even a 50% chance, 90% of the world’s coal reserves and 60% of the oil and gas reserves must be left underground, unburned, the Guardian has reported.
Climate justice is key to ensuring that climate agreements and policies are fair, equitable, and consider the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people. Rich countries have by and large refused to limit their consumption of fossil fuels or pay compensation for the resulting damages, while poor countries have insisted on their right to emit as many greenhouse gases as needed to lift their people out of poverty. The ethical argument for loss and damage payments is clear and analysts have argued that, morality aside, paying loss and damage compensation is the self-interested thing to do. If developing countries lack the financial means to choose a green- over a brown-energy future, there is no hope of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, and developed countries will then suffer as well.
Here are some key points to bear in mind while covering the climate justice angle:
- Rich countries’ per capita emissions are exponentially higher than those of poor countries. Burning fossil fuels for many years has helped rich countries get rich and stay rich.
- The US remains the world’s leading climate polluter. China has overtaken the US as the highest annual emitter of greenhouse gases, but the US is still the biggest cumulative emitter, and it is cumulative emissions that determine global temperature rise. Poor countries argue that fairness dictates the US and other long-industrialized nations should do the most to fight climate change.
- Climate justice is local. Climate justice is not solely a matter for global negotiations; it’s also an issue within countries and local communities.
Scientists use the term “climate emergency” both because overheating the planet could end civilization as we know it and because remedies must be applied so rapidly. Climate solutions are abundant, but countries and corporations invested in the status quo often delay or prevent implementation.
Refer to the “Climate Solutions Reporting Guide” (or the shorter “Cheat Sheet”) by CCNow and Solutions Journalism Network for help thinking about the various categories of solutions and how to cover them. Beware of false solutions and the use of “solutions” in greenwashing.
CCNow’s COP28 hub. See the COP28 resource hub, which includes webinars, Climate Beat newsletters, partner stories, and other resources to help journalists report on the UN climate summit.
Official COP28 resources. The conference website includes COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber’s recent letter to parties, the thematic program, the overview schedule, press information, and more. (We advise that members of the press do not download any official apps to their phones.)
Global South Climate Database. Find climate scientists and experts from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.
Loss and damage explained. Need the basics on the loss and damage fund? Carbon Brief has you covered with this November 2023 explainer.
1.5 degrees C. CCNow’s explainer, “Reporting on the 1.5-degree-C Target,” includes information on what it is, why it’s important, and how to include it in your reporting.
World Resources Institute. COP28 Resource Hub