Behind the scenes at COP28: ‘We have to accelerate climate action’


The 28th edition of the UN climate conference (COP28) is taking place in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December 2023. This important gathering brings together representatives from countries around the world to negotiate on steps they can take together to slow down climate change. A delegation from the Netherlands is also taking part. Here’s a glimpse behind the scenes at COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Wednesday 13 December: COP28 concludes with a major agreement

After nearly two weeks of intense negotiations, COP28 came to a close on Wednesday 13 December. The conference got off to a successful start with the Loss and Damage Fund, and its final day brought another major breakthrough. Thomas Vergna, from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, participated in the negotiations on behalf of the Netherlands. ‘It was a great honour to represent the European Union and its 27 member states,’ he said. ‘An agreement whose terms include tripling the global capacity for renewable energy and eventually phasing out fossil fuels is an important step towards the Paris climate goals. It’s no less than historic.’

Thomas adds, ‘COP28 was also an occasion for a global stocktake. We wanted to evaluate our progress towards achieving the Paris climate goals and ramp up our collective ambitions. Everyone has worked hard over the past weeks, and these agreements are the concrete results. Of course, efforts will have to continue after COP28. We need to stay committed to the ambitions we’ve set these recent weeks in order to keep the Paris goals within reach.’

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Image: ©Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken
Negotiations at COP28 continued on until the very end

Sunday 10 December: Dutch leadership on key topics

As the Netherlands’ climate ambassador, Jaime de Bourbon de Parme has been playing an important role at COP28. Among his tasks is heading the diplomatic delegation in Dubai, and he’s proud of how the Netherlands has performed at the conference, he says. ‘We’ve demonstrated leadership on key points, including on behalf of the EU. The negotiating team has done a truly admirable job, working day and night to achieve ambitious results at COP28.’

Jaime says he has not had a minute to spare at COP28. ‘I accompanied Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the first day, and deputised for him on the second. And these past weeks I have talked on behalf of five ministries about key themes in the Netherlands’ international climate strategy, from energy, transportation and water to adaptation, food and financing. It’s all been really important, given that the Netherlands is involved in 32 new initiatives and statements that have been drafted during COP28. One of them, the joint statement on fossil fuel subsidies, was reported on around the world.’ He adds, ‘A personal highlight was a discussion with the Chinese climate ambassador, which other European climate ambassadors also took part in. It was a very constructive conversation and I hope it will contribute to positive outcomes at this COP.’

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Image: ©Ministerie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat

With the climate conference off to such a good start, positive outcomes are within reach, thinks Jaime. ‘COP28 got off to a successful start with the Loss and Damage Fund – everyone was very happy about that! And now we’re aiming to accomplish as much as we can as we move towards the end of the conference,’ he says.

Wednesday 6 December: Green growth pays off!

René van Hell is attending COP28 in his role as Arctic Ambassador and Director of the Inclusive Green Growth Department (IGG) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ‘The Netherlands, like every other country, has a very strong interest in the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions like CO2 and methane,’ he says. ‘Here at COP28, I’m committed to reaching agreements that will accelerate that process.’

There are two sides to this, René explains: ‘On the one hand, there are the 20 countries that are responsible for 80% of global emissions. There’s obviously a lot to be gained there.’ He continues, ‘At the same time, the world also has a strong interest in ensuring that countries that emit very little continue to do so in the future too. So the Netherlands is keen to partner with these countries, such as Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, on the path to green growth. That’s also an important topic of discussion and negotiation at COP28.’

‘Here in Dubai we’re working on very concrete things that improve people’s lives,’ René explains. ‘Like launching lots of initiatives that will enable 100 million people in Africa to cook safely and cleanly. That’s not only good for cutting carbon emissions but also improves people’s health. Half a million women still die every year because they don’t cook in a safe, modern way. Instead they use wood-fired stoves in poorly ventilated rooms, for example.’

‘So we’re trying to make countries realise that green growth pays off. And that it makes sense to make climate the central theme of your economic policy. We’re working on this together in the NDC Partnership. Every country implementing the Paris Agreement must have a plan in place for doing so – a Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC. We’re helping countries put together a solid plan that can count on funding. We took a similar approach at the UN Water Conference we co-hosted earlier this year, motivating countries to be much more careful with water and not to assume it will just keep on flowing. For example, we’re encouraging countries to include in their NDCs how they use water in their industry and food production. We’re talking about that a lot here in Dubai.’

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Image: ©Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken
René van Hell (second to the right) during a session about safe cooking at COP8

Monday 4 December: Water as the engine of climate adaptation

COP28 is in full swing. During the opening weekend of the conference, many world leaders appeared onstage. Now it’s the turn of the negotiators, drawn from all corners of the globe, to get down to business. Meike van Ginneken is in Dubai representing the Netherlands. Based at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, she is the Netherlands’ Special Envoy for Water, and at COP28 she’s something of a rarity. ‘Many countries have a climate envoy, but water envoys are pretty few and far between,’ she laughs. ‘I’m speaking at various sessions about how people’s experience of climate change is shaped by water, be it a flooded house or a harvest ruined by drought or excessive rain. We’re building coalitions aimed at making water the engine of climate adaptation.’

Because climate adaptation needs to be much higher on the world’s list of priorities, in Meike’s view. ‘In recent years, the Netherlands has been working hard in this area together with other countries. But it remains a difficult challenge to raise awareness about adaptation among government leaders and the media. Most of the focus in on mitigation: reducing the use of fossil fuels. And so now the Dutch delegation is proposing a multiyear adaptation initiative. We aim to ensure that this forms part of official decision-making in the years ahead.’ Meike explains how she’s working to bring that about at COP28: ‘Every day has a different theme. Today, for example, it’s finance. I’m attending two sessions on adaptation finance. I’ll also be speaking with a number of key partners, such as the World Bank and a Dutch credit fund that’s promoting investment in climate-friendly loans.’

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Image: ©Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken
Meike (left) and Evita at COP28

Meike is accompanied in Dubai by several colleagues, including Evita Rozenberg, a water policy officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Evita, too, is emphasising the importance of water at the 2023 climate conference. ‘If we’re talking about climate change, we can’t ignore water,’ she says. ‘To boost our resilience against drought, flooding and rising sea levels, we have to take water as our point of departure. That’s why we spent 18 months planning the first UN Water Conference in 50 years, which we hosted at the start of this year.’

And the same topic is dominating Evita’s agenda during her time in the UAE: ‘This morning I worked with special climate envoy Jaime de Bourbon de Parme to finalise his speech at the High-Level Panel on Water Investments for Africa, which he attended on behalf of Prime Minister Rutte. And this afternoon I briefed Prime Minister Gilmar Pisas of Curaçao ahead of his appearance at the High-Level Water Presidency Session. Later in the day, I myself took part in a panel in the water pavilion, where I spoke about the need to link the issue of water more closely with climate plans.’ Evita concludes with one last observation: ‘Considering that water has only been on the agenda since COP26 in Glasgow, I feel I can look back with real pride on today. And as for all those world leaders? Walking the halls of this conference there are plenty of opportunities to convince them of our agenda!’

Thursday 30 November: warning words and early success

After months of preparations, COP28 has finally kicked off in Dubai. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell opened the crucial meeting with a firm statement. ‘We are stepping far too slowly from an unstable world that lacks resilience, to working out the best responses to the complex impacts we are facing. Because this has been the hottest year ever in humanity. It’s simply not good enough for us to be “trying to try”. We have to accelerate climate action,’ he said during a press conference.

It was with this purpose that the Dutch delegation travelled to the UAE city of Dubai. Maroucha Veerman and Gersom van der Elst are taking part in negotiations on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And they’ve already clocked up a win, says Maroucha. ‘The fund for responding to loss and damage was launched today. It will provide the most vulnerable countries with financial support for dealing with disasters caused by climate change and for preparing themselves better so as to limit climate damage. It’s unique for this to happen on the first day, since decisions like this usually don’t come until the end of a conference.’ Last year Maroucha and Gersom were closely involved in the process that led to today’s decision. ‘After a year of hard work and intensive negotiations, with this result on the very first day, I feel like the COP has got off to an extra good start,’ she says with a smile.

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Image: ©Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken
Maroucha Veerman represents the Netherlands at COP28.

The fund is a first step, but more will be needed to ensure the entire conference is a success, stresses Maroucha. ‘A fund for responding to loss and damage won’t ever be enough if we don’t also reduce emissions and improve our capacity to adapt to climate change. Fortunately I have colleagues who are going to be working hard on these issues in the coming weeks,’ she adds confidently.

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