👋 Welcome to a special takeover edition of Generate, with a guide to the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

🌍 Axios will have engaging events at COP28, including interviews with Al Gore, Microsoft sustainability boss Melanie Nakagawa & more. Full agenda and registration.

🎶 At this moment in 1976, Stevie Wonder was No. 1 on Billboard's album chart with "Songs in the Key of Life," which provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: The key developments to watch at COP28

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Charles Crowell/Bloomberg and Akram Shahid/AFP via Getty Images

The COP28 climate summit begins Thursday in Dubai and takes place against a kaleidoscope of competing interests in the worlds of energy, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions management, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: It's a critical test of whether the global community is willing to slash planet-warming emissions enough to meet Paris Agreement targets.

  • The world is currently on course to sail past those benchmarks, yielding potentially catastrophic warming of about 3°C (5.4°F) above preindustrial levels.

The big picture: On the one hand, renewables like solar and wind are surging in the U.S., Europe and China. On the other, oil and gas companies are showing few signs of cutting production and turning their attention and windfall profits to low-carbon ventures.

  • In fact, some energy companies are seeking to expand their fossil fuel production in the coming years, foreseeing lasting oil and gas demand while banking on nascent carbon capture technology to neutralize emissions.

What we're watching: A lot. Much of COP28's bandwidth will be taken up by setting up the rules governing the "loss and damage" fund. Broadly, this is a voluntary mechanism used by countries to help developing nations withstand climate impacts.

  • Though the fund was agreed to in principle at COP27 in Egypt, negotiators in Dubai have a tougher job: ironing out details like who puts money in and whether funds come as loans, grants or something else.

Zoom in: This COP will conclude the first "Global Stocktake," which is the process through which countries look at where we are in terms of planet-warming emissions compared with where the globe needs to be in order to meet Paris targets.

2. The COP president's juggling act

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This summit is unique because it's the first to be chaired by the CEO of a national oil company, Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: The fossil fuel industry has been invited to participate to a greater extent than any other COP since the gatherings began in 1995.

  • How these companies choose to exert their influence will be a test of al-Jaber's strategy of treating the oil and gas industry as part of a solution to human-caused climate change, rather than the problem.

The intrigue: Because of his fossil fuel ties, al-Jaber is under an intense microscope.

  • He came under withering criticism early this week amid reports that he and his staff allegedly pursued oil and gas deals during COP-related meetings with foreign officials. Al-Jaber blasted the reports as "false, not true, incorrect, and are not accurate," at a COP28 event Wednesday.
  • In an interview with Axios in September, al-Jaber said he was committed to weaning away from fossil fuels, but the energy transition needs to be carefully managed.

Many countries will push for a phaseout plank in a Dubai agreement. Colombia plans to sign on to a push for a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty, Susana Muhamad, the country's environment minister, told Axios Monday in an interview.

  • Broad phaseout language is unlikely to make it into a final deal, given opposition from fossil fuel-producing countries, including the U.S.

Yes, but: The UAE COP presidency is also committed to ensuring the 1.5-degree target remains viable through any agreement. However, a stream of recent reports shows the world must cut emissions by about 40% compared with current policy scenarios to align with Paris benchmarks.

  • With emissions having grown by an estimated 1.2% in 2021-2022, this makes required cuts appear daunting, if not fanciful.

Go deeper

3. COP28's high planetary stakes

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Each COP summit tends to inch the world forward toward a lower carbon future, Andrew writes.

  • Yet after 27 of these meetings, one thing is abundantly clear: Global emissions, as well as the resulting climb in global average temperatures, are dramatically outpacing outcomes from the COP process.

Zoom in: Judging a COP's success or failure depends on the eye of the beholder; coming during the final month of the hottest year in Earth's recorded history, perhaps the climate itself should be the arbiter.

Between the lines: The high stakes have never been more obvious.

The bottom line: No single COP can "solve" climate change. But one test to apply after Dubai is whether this summit helped to bend the emissions curve downward, thus preventing more significant climate-related damage later on.

4. COPs' emissions track record is at best TBD

Global fossil fuel emissions
Data: CICERO; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals. Editor's note: This chart has been corrected to reflect that COP21 happened in 2015, not 2009.

Amid summits scheduled and commitments made, emissions have stubbornly risen, Andrew writes.

Yes, but: With China's emissions set to peak before 2030, and the U.S. and EU seeing declining emissions, current projections show a plateau followed by a decline.

  • The question is how steeply and quickly that happens. It's dependent on government policies, technological developments, and to some extent, COP outcomes.

Context: The role of these summits is not to directly control an emissions knob, but rather to set the terms of debate and help countries determine how ambitious their climate programs should be.

Read more

5. The COP26 pledges, where are they now?

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Two COP summits ago, countries unveiled side deals that, in some ways, stole the thunder from the actual agreement that was passed, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: Each accord was limited on enforcement. The two most prominent ones concern reducing methane emissions and dramatically reducing deforestation.

Zoom in: Countries that signed onto the Methane Pledge agreed to take actions that would accomplish a collective goal of cutting emissions of the relatively short-lived, but extremely powerful, global warming gas by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

  • More than 150 countries are now participating, but many have not yet put forward a clear plan for how they will bring methane emissions down.

Between the lines: At COP26, more than 100 world leaders agreed to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

Yes, but: The trends are defying the pledge. In 2022, the world still lost 10% more primary rainforest than it did the year before, according to the University of Maryland and World Resources Institute.

What's next: At COP28, there may be public-private sector pushes to translate more of the big methane and forest conservation promises into action, backed up by funding and with concrete plans in place.

Read more

6. COP28 countdown notes: Pope out, Veep in, BlackRock in and more news

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Florian Gaertner/Getty Images

🛑 Illness will force Pope Francis to scuttle his planned Dec. 1-3 visit to COP28, the Vatican announced.

  • Why it matters: Francis would have been the first pontiff to attend a formal "conference of the parties," Ben writes. His speech and meetings would have lent weight to the talks.

🧳 VP Kamala Harris will attend COP28, Bloomberg reports. The White House did respond to an inquiry.

  • Why it matters: She would be the top U.S. official going unless President Biden makes a surprise appearance.

💵 BlackRock CEO Larry Fink is going, and the asset management giant is out with new warnings and recommendations on boosting climate finance.

  • Driving the news: The analysis finds that emerging markets require at least $1 trillion annually to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 — far above current investments.
  • What's next: It has ideas for unlocking more capital, including ways for development finance agencies to help de-risk projects. Bloomberg has more.

📉 The Rockefeller Foundation vowed to make its $6 billion endowment net-zero by 2050 and also plans to convene "investors, peers, and experts" to spur wider cooperation.

  • Why it matters: It's the "largest private U.S. foundation to date to pursue a net zero endowment," the announcement states.

We hope you enjoyed this special edition. Thanks to Chris Speckhard and Javier David for edits, along with the talented Axios Visuals team.