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COP 28: what you need to know

As we close out 2023, it is time once again for the annual COP conference—the 28th Annual Conference of the Parties officially gets underway today (November 30th, 2023). With tens of thousands of attendees expected, including political leaders, businesses, NGOs, activists and more, we’re in for a busy couple of weeks with lots of pledges, promises and projects set to be announced.

In that light, we wanted to provide you once again with a primer on all things COP28. Here’s what you need to know about COP28 and a little bit about the topics that we’ll be following over the next two weeks.

What is a COP?

‘COP’, as noted above, stands for “Conference of the Parties”. Basically, it’s a technical way of describing a gathering of the countries (parties) that have signed on to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. These annual conferences (COPs) provide the parties with an opportunity to come together and discuss progress (or lack thereof) and agree to global actions to undertake in the year(s) ahead.

The very first COP took place in March 1995 in Berlin, Germany. Since then, annual conferences of these parties have taken place—this year marks the 28th Conference of the Parties (aka COP28).

Among the most famous and significant COPs is COP21 in Paris, France in 2015.

Credit: COP28

At this conference, the parties agreed to a landmark agreement known as the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate with an overarching goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels” while pursuing a target holding temperature increases to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

COP28 will serve as an opportunity for countries around the world to come together and discuss actions being undertaken domestically to keep the Paris Agreement targets within reach and, hopefully, reach consensus on what must take place globally coming out of COP28 to advance climate action.

When is COP28 taking place?

COP28 is now underway—it began earlier today (November 30th) with a full agenda that runs through until December 12th, 2023. You can check out the full COP28 schedule here.

Where is COP28 taking place?

Credit: COP28

COP28 is taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The location of this year’s COP has been the subject of much debate and will surely put an enhanced focus on the role of fossil fuels in a future that holds to the Paris Agreement targets outlined above.

The UAE is among the top oil-producing countries in the world. This in and of itself is not a limiting factor in hosting a productive COP—Canada also ranks among the top oil-producing nations. Some, like the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, have gone so far as to say the UAE and COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, are an excellent choice to lead this year’s COP. Others agree stating that the UAE and their team are uniquely positioned to encourage fossil fuel companies to advance emissions reduction strategies and projects.

The proof, as always, will come at the end of the conference.

Who participates in COP?

There are two distinct ‘zones’ at COP28, the Blue Zone and the Green Zone. Each has their own agenda and distinct set of participants. Let’s explore each individually.

The Blue Zone

Think of the Blue Zone has the government/official negotiating zone. This is where national representatives from countries around the world will come together to discuss efforts to keep the Paris Agreement targets within reach while negotiating an official COP28 agreement—essentially, consensus on actions to take in the year ahead.

It also serves as an opportunity to conduct a global stocktaking of the efforts of individual countries around the world. Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are the vehicle through which countries report on their domestic efforts and progress toward the Paris Agreement targets (for a quick primer on NDCs read our blog post here). The collection of NDCs and updates from countries around the world on their progress should serve as a global stocktaking exercise of our progress toward reach our targets.

As noted above, this is also where an agreement will be hammered out on key actions for the year ahead. Topics like a global carbon offset system, a loss and damage fund for countries already impacted by the effects of climate change, adaptation goals, energy transition packages, and more will all be on the table during these negotiations.

The Green Zone

Credit: COP28

The Green Zone is slightly less official, but still significant. The Green Zone serves as the platform for NGOs, companies, activists and more to participate in COP28 and discuss technologies, projects and efforts that they are undertaking to achieve climate action.

The Green Zone features technology displays, panel discussions, trade-show booths and more. The global nuclear sector is active across Green Zone programming including sessions like: “The Necessary role of Nuclear in the Energy Transition”, “Atoms4NetZero”, and the launch of Women in Nuclear – Middle East Chapter.

It is exciting to see nuclear take a prominent place in the Green Zone at this year’s COP. Which leads us to our final thoughts: what do we expect/hope to see at COP28.

What do we hope to see at COP28?

To wrap up, here’s a quick rundown of the things that we’re watching for at COP28 (with a particular eye on what COP28 means for the nuclear sector):

1. Agreement on fossil fuel phasedown/phaseout—recognizing nuclear’s role.

COP27 disappointed many that had hoped to see significant action on phasing out the use of fossil fuels—particularly for electricity generation.

The final agreement from COP27 contained watered-down language that referenced only a “phasedown of unabated coal”.

The lack of progress on phasing out coal-fired electricity worldwide is a sticking point for many, and they are looking for the COP28 agreement to contain more definitive language on phasing out the use of coal going forward.

Hopefully, parties look to Ontario as a model on how to achieve this task. The phaseout of coal-fired electricity generation still stands as one of the most significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction efforts in North America. And it was made possible by a steadfast commitment to bringing nuclear units back online. Parties at COP28 should look to Ontario and the nuclear sector when considering how they might phase out coal in their jurisdictions.

2. Advocacy for nuclear in clean electricity grid buildouts.

In advance of COP28, there has been a significant focus on the need to buildout clean electricity grids around the world. The attention to date has mostly focused on a goal to triple renewable electricity generation by 2030—a worthwhile and ambitious goal.

Nuclear power plays an integral role in supporting Ontario's electricity grid as one of the cleanest in North America.

At COP28, it would be great to see the same enthusiasm for renewables extended to nuclear energy. The building blocks are there. The United States and France have announced their intention to lead a push to triple nuclear power generation globally by the year 2050.

After years of being left largely on the sidelines of COP events, it is great to see countries placing nuclear at the forefront of their climate objectives. Canada can, should, and must be part of these efforts. I’ll be watching closely to see if our representatives join this push.

3. Climate finance—including nuclear.

Finally, there is widespread consensus that COP28 will focus on climate finance. An important question, someone needs to pay for these efforts and projects. Nuclear is seeing significant momentum on the climate finance front and it is my hope that this momentum will carry into conversations and agreements at COP28.

It is vital that green financing regimes around the world recognize the clean credentials of nuclear energy. We have seen debate in the past (the European Union taxonomy, Canada’s Green Bond framework, etc.) about the eligibility of nuclear for these financing structures. Excluding nuclear from these frameworks and tools is nonsensical and places unnecessary barriers to achieving the Paris Agreement targets.

Canada’s Green Bond Framework recently recognized the critical role of nuclear in decarbonization efforts while the European Union’s Green Taxonomy also created a role for nuclear. Conversations at COP28 about climate finance must do the same.

Now you’re up to speed on all things COP28!


Chad Richards is the Director of Policy and Partnerships.


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