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All eyes on COP28 – Expert Reaction

More than 70,000 delegates are expected to attend this year’s UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai, which kicks off next week. What will NZ experts be looking for from the gathering?

Eight years ago, the world agreed to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels by 2050. This year’s COP will include the first-ever global stocktake to see where countries and stakeholders are collectively making progress towards meeting the goals of that 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement – and where they’re not.

The SMC asked experts to comment on themes, milestones, and discussions they’ll be paying attention to, and additional context in the leadup to the conference.

1. Overview
2. Measuring greenhouse gases
3. Climate mobility and justice
4. Adaptation
5. Glaciers, ice sheets, snow, and sea ice
6. Sustainable energy
7. Climate finance, greenwashing, and sustainable business

Dr James Renwick, Professor of Physical Geography, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“What am I going to be looking for out of COP28? Well, I have low expectations from what has been described as a “Circus in the Desert”, but what I would love to see is:

“The number one thing is to see some reality to the conversations in the desert. Global civilisation is on a path to self-destruction and we urgently need real leadership, not just tinkering. I would really love to see New Zealand play a role here.

“We need stronger pledges to reduce emissions (IPCC state that to stop at 1.5°C, emissions need to be cut 43% by 2030, compared to 2019 levels). The time for serious emissions reductions is now. The UN has stated that COP28 must be a ‘can-do COP’ where countries show how they will urgently pick up the pace in the next two years (towards the 2025 NDCs).

“It would be great to see further advances on ‘Green Climate Fund’ money, support for ‘Loss & Damage’ funding and some real impetus behind the idea of supporting a ‘just transition’. That is, the developed world providing serious funding to allow developing countries both adapt to climate change hazards they are already experiencing, and to mitigate, go straight to renewable energy sources. Reducing inequality is key to addressing climate change.

“And lastly, it will be interesting to see a clear statement from the end of the ‘global stocktake’, to reinforce the points above. That is, just how far off the mark is the globe from stopping global warming at 1.5°C, or at least less than 2°C? Given recent extreme events and record high temperatures (even a day this month when global temperatures topped 2°C above pre-industrial), the pressure is really on and it would be helpful to see some really honest statements around this, as governments work on their new NDCs for 2025.”

Conflict of interest statement: I am a climate change researcher at VUW-THW and contributed to the latest IPCC Assessment. I am also a Climate Change Commissioner, advising government on its response to the climate crisis.

Dr Daniel Kingston, Senior Lecturer, University of Otago, comments:

“The need for an acceleration of emissions reduction programmes grows greater with every passing COP, and COP28 is no exception. Indeed, there have been a number of particularly disturbing extremes recorded globally in 2023, such as record low Antarctic winter sea ice coverage, heatwaves, and a massive increase in wildfire extent in North America.

“Increases in global mean temperature loom large above these individual extremes, with new records set from June through to October (at the time of writing). September was by some margin the warmest month ever in the instrumental record, and 2023 as a whole is highly likely to be the warmest year. Further, the global temperature anomalies experienced in the second half of the year are large enough to have temporarily pushed the planet past the 1.5°C warming threshold.

“Against this backdrop, the recently released UNEP Emissions Gap Report highlights that current global emission reduction commitments put us on track for a warming of 2.5-2.9°C – well short of our commitments under the Paris Agreement.

“Without substantial and rapid emissions reductions globally we face an increasing likelihood of further and more severe extreme weather events, and that various fundamental components of the Earth system (e.g., polar ice sheets, ocean currents, tropical rainforests) will come ever closer to tipping points that once passed will likely lead to major and irreversible changes in the context of human lifetimes.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr Jocelyn Turnbull, Radiocarbon Science Leader, GNS Science, comments:

“I’m interested in the intersection of greenhouse gas measurement science with policy outcomes. The UNFCCC and Paris Agreement talk about trust and transparency, and about measurement, reporting and verification (MRV). That is – if we want to achieve the Paris Agreement goals, we need to know what our emissions are and how we are tracking on our mitigation pledges globally, regionally and nationally.

“Right now, there are some real risks in this space. At COP28 I’ll be participating in conversations about how we can utilise the science to improve MRV globally, and particularly for forest carbon offsets which have a serious credibility problem. I’ll be watching the international effort to bring together greenhouse gas measurements and modelling into a global program that assesses CO2 and methane fluxes across the world (WMO’s Global Greenhouse Gas Watch). I will be leading an effort to establish international guidelines for assessing forest carbon uptake that are desperately needed to improve credibility of offsetting efforts by governments and the private sector.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr. Dalila Gharbaoui, Political and Social scientist, Postdoctoral Climate Crisis Research Fellow, University of Canterbury, comments:

“COP28 starting in Dubai in a few days is a critical turning point as there is common agreement that emissions cuts alone will not solve the climate crisis. We have scientific evidence that the earth’s climate is changing faster than expected and sea levels are rising at a faster rate than envisioned. At this point, keeping the focus on cutting emissions to 1.5ºC is crucial to substantially reduce all types of losses and damages from climate change but it won’t be enough. The terms of the climate negotiations will need to consider that the costs of our inaction to adapt to the changing climate, will compound and cascade as time passes. It will also be crucial that leaders consider all areas of mitigation and adaptation as overlapping and interconnected issues from cutting emissions to 1.5ºC to filling the “adaptation gap” including addressing adaptation finance and all types of losses and damages. All of these will need to be discussed by States leaders through the scope of equity to ensure the focus remains on supporting the most vulnerable communities which strongly came through the last IPCC report.

“It will also be important to follow-up closely on discussions around the continuous recognition of human mobility linked to climate change in policy and climate action at international, regional, national, and local levels, and observe how these will be practically implemented in a meaningful way for the most vulnerable communities within the Paris Agreement, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. It will be critical that UNFCCC parties take decisions to enable meaningful, empowered, and informed decisions on climate (im)mobility including in cases of community retreat, planned relocation, displacement, and migration. It will also be crucial that the considerable corpus of research that has emerged from indigenous studies, social and political sciences inviting policymakers to understand and support climate (im)mobility as a dynamic, holistic process addressing the full spectrum of mobilities and immobilities is practically translated into decisions offering people and communities the choice to move or stay in dignity. These efforts should be financed and implemented by diverse range of actors, including the private sector while bringing together civil society, public actors, indigenous peoples, women, youth, displaced people as part of decision-making processes. People whose health and disability are forcing them to stay in place and communities that are forced or choose to stay should be supported to adapt in place. The right of people to determine their own “adaptation futures” should be supported and prioritized to ensure aspirations to move or not is at the centre of the debates. This is crucial for Indigenous Peoples and other communities whose sense of belonging to their lands is a vital part of their being.

“In the climate mobility space, after decades of international climate negotiations, no consensus has been reached on protecting citizens and nations whose survival is threatened by the impacts of climate change. It would be important that leaders discuss a way forward and how to prevent States whose survival is threatened by climate impacts to be subject to climate mobility arrangements eroding their sovereignty when dealing with climate mobilities in future. The Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union (Falepili) agreement signed a few weeks ago presented as “Human Mobility with Dignity” also means that Australia will now be able to require from Tuvalu to “mutually agree with Australia” for deals with any other country on security and defence-related matters. The deal has been presented as a case of climate mobility justice. However, an important gap in this agreement is the lack of adequate consultation with Tuvaluan citizens on the ground. It is important that future climate mobility agreements reflect true cases of climate justice and that citizens are empowered to be part of the decision-making process on these important decisions.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr Nick Cradock-Henry, Principal Social Scientist, GNS Science, comments:

“With COP 28 only a week away, a recent report suggests we are far from realising the necessary emissions reductions to hold temperatures at 2°C. The science is clear, and the world is on track for catastrophic rises in temperatures, and the attendant impacts and implications for a range of systems, and sectors.

“As part of the University of Canterbury delegation, in the coming weeks I will be focused in particular, on all aspects of climate change adaptation, including tracking discussions on the implementation of the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA).

“The GGA was established as part of the Paris Agreement (2015), which had the goal of limiting global temperatures to ‘well below 2°C and to 1.5°C.’ The GGA is a mechanism to enhance countries’ capacity to strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. While this was an important step toward accountability and cooperation, there was little clarity on the elements of the goal and how success would be measured. There is a need to rapidly advance, and scale up adaptation efforts at the COP, and firmly place adaptation alongside mitigation.

“I will be looking for, and watching:

  • “Discussions of the global stocktake on adaptation (2023), which highlights the ongoing gaps between adaptation needs, and implementation. Can we close that gap? Is there funding, support, and commitment to action? Where does NZ stand relative to the rest of the world?
  • “To what extent do governments reach an ambitious agreement on the framework of the Global Goal on Adaptation, one that sends a clear message on the need to accelerate action so all countries, communities, ecosystems, and economies can have in place structures and systems to withstand the ravages of climate change?
  • “Land and food systems’ resilience – Recent experiences in Aotearoa New Zealand, but also globally, highlight the vulnerability and interconnected nature of land and food systems. What are the risks, and opportunities? How are food systems changing? What does this mean for the future of our land-based (and export-oriented) industries?
  • “Bridging the gap between disaster risk and resilience, and climate change adaptation – Climate change is a risk multiplier, and increases the potential for compounding and cascading risks and hazards. How can we build resilience to the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change?
  • “Maladaptation – As we respond to acute events and disasters, and also slower but no less impactful climate change effects like sea level rise, we need to consider whether the decisions we are making are truly providing us with long-term climate adaptation and resilience.
  • “Adaptation for whom – Ensuring fairness, and equity in adaptation. Finally, the normative aspects of adaptation are increasingly visible, and the potential for communities, including iwi and hapu, and other Indigenous peoples to define for themselves, what effective adaptation is. How do we reconcile the global scale, top-down definitions, metrics, and frameworks for adaptation, with locally-determined, led, and implemented solutions? Can that be reconciled, or is that inability to resolve those differences hampering efforts at implementation?”

No conflict of interest.

Lauren Vargo, Research Fellow, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“Leading into COP meetings for the past few years, an international cryosphere (snow and ice) group publishes an annual report that provides an update on the state of the cryosphere. This year’s report was written and reviewed by over 60 scientists who are all experts in their fields, and includes updates on the state of ice sheets, glaciers, snow, permafrost, and sea ice.

“Unfortunately, the themes across all chapters are consistent: warming over 1.5 – 2°C will: trigger massive ice sheet melt, result in the loss of many mountain glaciers, lead to extensive permafrost thaw, and cause the Arctic Ocean to be largely free of sea ice in the summers.

“The impacts of this melting show why we should care. Sea level will rise, an impact that is particularly relevant in New Zealand. As glaciers melt, catastrophic flood events become more likely, while at the same time resulting in a decrease in water resources in spring and summer. The report notes that by 2100, New Zealand glaciers could lose up to 80% of ice volume if warming reaches 3°C. Thawing permafrost will emit more CO2 and methane, adding to continued temperature rise. Less sea ice in the ocean will alter global climate and weather (sea ice reflects 50 – 70% of incoming energy, whereas the open ocean only reflects ~6%).

“This year, in addition to reporting on the state of the climate, the authors also put together a Call to Action. This letter aims to advance the urgency and ambition in mitigating climate change at the upcoming COP, with the hope of avoiding the biggest impacts of climate change. The letter ends with the following lines: ‘This continued rise in CO2 is unacceptable. The melting point of ice pays no attention to rhetoric, only to our actions.’

“This report and letter highlight the scientific findings, which, as an Earth scientist, catch my attention. However, I do wonder that if we (Earth scientists) want to advance change, we need to also take a more interdisciplinary approach (e.g. considering the cost of climate change, psychological response) to convince policy makers to limit warming to below 2°C.”

No conflict of interest.

Ralph E. H. Sims, Professor Emeritus, Sustainable Energy and Climate Mitigation, Massey University, comments:

“COP28 will be an interesting meeting but I don’t hold up much hope for any major breakthroughs.

“The stocktake around where we have reached in terms of global emission reductions based on the Paris Agreement will likely confirm we’re not on target for staying below 2°C, never mind 1.5°C.

“Therefore, how to achieve greater emission reductions together with the need for adaptation globally will be key components of the COP.

“There will be hopes that renewable energy can be significantly increased more rapidly and that the long understood benefits from energy efficiency measures will result from greater uptake and more innovation.

“Fossil fuel subsidies have actually increased globally in spite of calls to remove them over recent years. So it will be interesting to follow this debate – given the meeting is in the UAE and many oil industry representatives will probably be present.

“What I’m hoping for is greater debate about how to encourage behavioural change (e.g., through greater educational campaigns) and how to better achieve local climate action by combining with councils and communities (e.g., to reduce the negativity usually received when developing walkable suburbs, new cycleways, public transport, etc.).

“I’ve attended several COPs over the years (including in Paris) but I’m pleased not to be attending this one. It will be slow progress!”

No conflict of interest.


Dr. Sebastian Gehricke, Senior Lecturer, Finance & Director, Climate and Energy Finance Group at the University of Otago, comments:

Financing Gap

“There is currently still a large gap in the amount of climate financing needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals, estimated between US$3-6 trillion annually (IMF, 2022). A similar gap exists for investments in and funding for nature-based solutions and biodiversity loss, with current estimates, which I believe are at the lower end of reality, putting US$1.9 trillion of assets at risk due to biodiversity loss (WEF and PWC, 2022). A large part of this financing gap will need to be filled by private capital. The global developed countries have still not met the pledge to provide climate finance of US$100 billion per year to developing nations and some have questioned what is being labelled as climate finance.

“To address these gaps we need enabling policy reforms globally, continue to advance the financial incentives (carrots and sticks) in alignment with these goals, and regulatory oversight which swiftly deals with greenwashing and other misleading claims, so that those truly embracing impact are enabled to grow and scale their activities and new players and ideas are able to come to the forefront.”

Halt the expansion of fossil fuel exploration

“On the back of record profits for the fossil fuel industry, many are now expanding exploration, tapping new resources and lowering their climate ambitions. This is extremely problematic and such projects should no longer be allowed. The largest holders of reserves (fossil fuel assets) already hold enough potential emissions to exhaust our global carbon budgets more than three times over (Dordi et al., 2022) and expanding these reserves is not only detrimental to our global commitments, but actually increases the stranded asset risk for these entities and their investors. These risks are so large and systemic that when the assets are stranded, the negative consequences will reverberate through all of our economies and affect all.”


“Greenwashing by corporations and the fund management industry is rife. Regulators globally are taking more action on this, but it needs to be maintained as a key focus. The regulators need further resourcing, more ambitious mandates and governments must ensure these regulators are acting in line with these mandates. If we do not have transparency and verification of claims the private sector cannot align with climate goals, even if these are the surest path to long-term value and wealth generation.

“In this space legal definitions, through taxonomies and disclosure regulations, are developing and extremely important, however this information must be verified and these definitions need to be based in scientific accuracy, not in ease of implementation. I would hope more nations agree to work with the European Union in order to have comparative taxonomies globally.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Sara Walton, Co-Director of He Kaupapa Hononga Otago’s Climate Change Research Network, University of Otago, comments:

“While there are many things that I hope to see from COP28 in the rethink, reboot and refocus around climate change, I also think that it is good to also reflect on changes that have come about since the Paris Agreement. The New Climate Institute’s latest report outlines five main shifts that have occurred since the Paris Agreement.

“Despite these shifts to date I hope to see action on each of these as a result of the rethink, reboot and refocus around climate change from COP28. For example:

“Shift 1: I hope to see climate change discourse to be embedded in all human activities globally.

“Shift 2: I hope to see regulation, policies and action to reduce emissions.

“Shift 3: I hope to see businesses set and meet their absolute targets for all scopes of their emissions inventory.

“Shift 4: I hope to see power systems shift to renewable and decentralised models.

“Shift 5: I hope to see zero carbon strategies enacted and complete move away from fossil-fuels.”

No conflict of interest.

Associate Professor Helen Roberts, Director, Climate and Energy Finance Group, University of Otago, comments:

“COP28 needs to address the rate at which companies are changing current practice to realise a target of 1.5 degrees centigrade. Some firms have no net zero target and without commitment from businesses the ability to accelerate efforts to address climate change is severely hampered.

“More investment needs to be targeting global warming. Achieving a goal of net zero requires relational commitment from suppliers and customers. If firms can engage meaningfully with these two important groups to build a framework that incentivises the trade-offs of everyday decisions to achieve the net zero goal businesses globally can accelerate achieving lower GHG emissions at scope 1, 2 and 3.

“Recycling of plastic waste is a huge issue that is not being addressed. Eastman Chemical estimates that 83% of plastic put on the market is not recycled. The firm has developed a technology to recycle low quality plastic waste that has an 88% lower carbon footprint than the current process. The Eastman Chemical Polyester Renewal Technology (PRT) supports six key principles. Investment into making this type of technology more available can address a serious waste problem in the current value chain.

“Underfunding of the adaptation by firms to the impact of climate change. This requires significant capital investment to change how communities live or work to reduce the impact of climate change particularly through the reduction of GHG emissions.”

No conflicts declared.