What to Expect at COP-28 in Dubai

With just a few days remaining until the start of the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), COP28 is the focus of this blog post and my most recent podcast.  In the podcast, I engage in conversation with environmental economist Nathaniel Keohane, the president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).  Nat will be leading the C2ES delegation at COP28.  I’ll also be at COP28, with our group from the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.   So, at the end of this blog post, I provide a list of Harvard activities at COP28.

This is a special pre-COP episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” which is produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.  Listen to the conversation here.

Keohane, before becoming president of C2ES, was Senior Vice President for Climate at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and before that served in the Obama Administration as Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Environment.

In our podcast conversation, Nat explains that the “Global Stocktake” will play a prominent role at COP28 in Dubai beginning later this week.  In fact, he expresses considerable optimism that the Global Stocktake will provide incentives for participating nations to step up their collective efforts to slow the rise of global temperatures.

“What we’re looking for coming out of this COP is to highlight a handful of those high-level political signals coming out of this global stocktake. Things like a commitment to triple renewable energy globally by 2030. Things like slashing methane emissions. You can imagine a handful of others on land use and carbon sinks, on adaptation and global finance, a handful of things that can define an action agenda for 2024 and then can inform what countries do when they set those more ambitious targets in 2025. That’s the real centerpiece of this COP,” he says. “The goal is to catalyze action and collaborative cooperative action in 2024, looking ahead to 2025, not just simply to say, ‘Well, gee, we’re off track. That’s too bad’… We need to catalyze action going forward.”

Keohane remarks that the controversial issue of “Loss and Damage” will also play a prominent role in the negotiations this year as the concept of providing financial support to the nations hardest hit by climate change becomes more widely accepted. 

“I think we’ve come a long way with the recognition that there are damages that the most vulnerable countries are going to suffer, are suffering already, that go beyond simply the investments in adaptation and climate resilience, and that there needs to be some way to address those. And I think we’ve made a fair amount of progress, even though it’s not going to be satisfying to everybody right away,” he says. “I think it’s the first step towards an institution over time that can grow and build and become something more important.”

We discuss how the recent COPs have grown larger with a growing contingency of participants from the private sector, NGOs, and multi-lateral organizations that are dedicated to advancing the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“[The COP] really becomes a magnet, a draw for everybody working on climate. And the fact that all those side events have become so big I think reflects the fact that climate is now central to the decisions that policymakers are making, not just in a Climate Ministry or an Environment Ministry, but in the Treasury and in Finance Ministries and in Energy Ministries and so on. Climate is [also] central to what businesses are doing and how they’re making plans,” Nat says. “I’ve always been of the view [that if] we didn’t have the COP already we would have to invent it because we need that kind of focal point for people to come and gather talking about what I think is the most existential issue of our time.”

For this and much more, I encourage you to listen to our complete conversation in this 54th episode of the Environmental Insights podcast series.

As I noted at the outset of this blog post, both Keohane and I will participate in COP28 events in Dubai.  So I close this special pre-COP edition of my blog with a description of some of our own – that is, Harvard – activities at COP28.


Linked with my current role as director of a Harvard-wide initiative on Reducing Global Methane Emissions, which I’ve described in detail in previous essays at this blog, much – but not all – of our focus at COP28 will be on methane and related public policies.  Indeed, efforts around and impacts of global methane-emissions abatement will be our focus in our official Side Event on December 6, at COP28.

Reducing Global Methane Emissions: Imperatives, Opportunities, and Challenges

This panel will feature several leading scholars and climate policy experts who will discuss current research and practice on technology, policy, and international cooperation, drawing in part on Harvard’s major new methane initiative supported by the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability at Harvard University. I will moderate the discussion.

The other panelists will be: 

  • Stephen Hammer, Chief Executive Officer, New York Climate Exchange, and former Methane Lead, World Bank;
  • Claire Henly, Senior Advisor for Non- CO2 greenhouse gases, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate; 
  • Daniel Jacob, Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Engineering, Harvard University and global expert on satellite-based methane detection and attribution; 
  • Helena Varkkey, Associate Professor of Environmental Politics and Governance, Universiti Malaya and Principal Investigator, UM-CERAH-EDF initiative on methane emissions in Malaysia

Time, Date, and Location:  December 6, 2023, 3:00 – 4:30 pm local time, Side Event Room 4, COP-28, Expo City, Dubai

(Note: All official side events are within the “Blue Zone” at COP-28; registration for the COP and a badge are required to enter)

For questions and further information about this and the other COP28 events that follow below, please contact:  Jason Chapman (Jason_chapman@hks.harvard.edu).

Some other speaking engagements of mine at COP28 include:

Net Zero in Action: Showcasing Decarbonization Technologies

December 5, 10:00 – 11:30 am, panelist at IPIECA event: “Net Zero in Action: Showcasing Decarbonization Technologies,” Pavilion of the International Emissions Trading Association, Blue Zone. 

Transforming High Global Warming Potential Sectors through Carbon Markets

December 6, 9:00-10:30 am, panelist, where RNS will make a presentation on “The Promise and Peril of GHG Markets for Reducing Global Methane Emissions,” Asian Development Bank Pavilion, Blue Zone

Application of Low Emission Development Strategies and Progress of Global Energy Transition

December 6, 1 – 2:30 pm, Robert Stavins is a panelist at Ninth Global Climate Change Think Tank Forum. The event is hosted by China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation. Theme: “Application of Low Emission Development Strategies and Progress of Global Energy Transition,” China Pavilion, Blue Zone.

In addition to Professors Stavins and Jacob, the Harvard delegation in Dubai will include several leading scholars from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and others from around Harvard.

HSPH is sponsoring two events at COP-28: 

“Linking Agendas of the UNFCCC and the World Health Assembly – Regional perspective,” 3 – 4:30 pm, December 6, Guatemala Pavilion, Blue Zone.

 “Linking Agendas of the UNFCCC and the World Health Assembly – Global perspective,” 9:30 – 10:45 am, December 12, WHO Pavilion, Blue Zone.

For more information on the HSPH events, contact Liz Willetts (ewilletts@hsph.harvard.edu).

I hope to see many of you at one or more of these events, and/or other meetings, in the hallways, or elsewhere at COP28 in Dubai!

Finally, I want to remind you to listen to this 54th episode of the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.  You can find a transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.  Previous episodes have featured conversations with:

“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunesPocket CastsSpotify, and Stitcher.


Author: Robert Stavins

Robert N. Stavins is the A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy & Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, Director of Graduate Studies for the Doctoral Program in Public Policy and the Doctoral Program in Political Economy and Government, Co-Chair of the Harvard Business School-Kennedy School Joint Degree Programs, and Director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.