Three DDL researchers and four UNC students joined the 100,000+ attendees to the United Nations 28th Conference of Parties, COP28, earlier this month in Dubai.

Through the years, the size and scope of these climate conferences has expanded. This year, there was a stronger focus on some of our research themes, including net zero and non-state climate action.

Hear more from our COP28 attendees about their experiences:


Angel Hsu, DDL Director

COP28 was the largest COP ever – more than 100,000 people attended the two weeks of negotiations, side events, demonstrations, and other activities associated with the annual event. 

Many observers tempered their expectations considering the prominence of fossil fuel interests at COP-28, given the hosting by the UAE and the position of Sultan Al Jaber, the COP-28 President, as the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. The focus on transitioning away from fossil fuels as the primary energy source took center stage, notably emphasized by the media, given COP President Sultan’s prior comments questioning the scientific basis of achieving net-zero emissions. From this perspective, a milestone COP28 achieved could be the inclusion of the language mentioning the need for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner” to keep in line with science and required net-zero emissions by mid-century. 

Regrettably, the areas in which DDL had been offering research and recommendations, such as the oversight of corporate and subnational climate initiatives regarding accounting and accountability, were notably missing from the ultimate text of the Global Stocktake (GST). This omission was a disappointment, given September’s GST Synthesis Report, which was developed from nearly two years of consultations, emphasized the role of private business, financial institution, and subnational governments in ‘needed systems transformation,’ as well as improved accountability to enhance the credibility of these efforts. I hope that in the new year, those of us working on these issues, particularly the Camda group for which DDL serves as Secretarait, can work together with the UNFCCC to forge a path forward, since time is unfortunately not on our side. 


Kaihui Song, DDL Post-doctoral Research Associate

At COP28, we observed participating nations demonstrate an increased willingness to set and adhere to ambitious emissions reduction targets, acknowledging the severity of the climate crisis and putting forth more efforts in just decarbonization transition, particularly to phase out fossil fuels. Collaborative efforts and partnerships were another prominent theme, emphasizing the need for international cooperation in implementing effective climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. What I found very relevant to my work is a heightened emphasis on subnational climate actions and need for associated data accountability and transparency. Similar to what Data-Driven EnviroLab has found in the report released during COP28 “Doubling Down on Climate Action: Cities and Regions Must Put in 2x the Work to Stay on Track with Climate Goals”, the first global stocktake (GST) revealed that current national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are significantly inadequate to stay on track with 1.5 degrees Celsius climate goal. GST outcomes highlight an urgent call for climate actions from subnational governments, businesses, and individuals to step up their efforts and work together to achieve a decarbonized future.


Katherine Burley, DDL PhD Student Research Assistant

It was an amazing experience to attend COP28 in Dubai this year. There were several important outcomes from COP this year, including commitments from developed nations to the loss and damage fund and agreements to move away from fossil fuels and scale up renewable energy and energy efficiency. The atmosphere around the venue was really vibrant and it was exciting to be part of the action as progress was being made. 

Our days were filled with panels, presentations, and workshops across the blue zone. The blue zone itself was huge and it took at least 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other. One of my favorite events of the week highlighted the role of women in building a climate resilient world and featured a panel of women working on climate from the private and public sector, moderated by Hillary Clinton. I was not previously aware of many of the compounding challenges that women and girls are facing due to climate change and the event highlighted actions that the panelists were taking to elevate women in climate action.

Despite the chaos and busyness of the week, we were able to have productive conversations and connect with colleagues that we rarely see in person. DDL co-hosted several events that facilitated discussion on the role of non-state actors in the UNFCCC process and the data and structures needed to promote their accountability. DDL and UNC also hosted a side event that featured organizations that assess the integrity of net-zero commitments from subnational governments, corporate actors, and nations. Kaihui Song presented our recently released progress report for cities, states, and regions. It was a great opportunity to communicate DDL’s work to a global audience and connect with people who are interested in our work.



Student Reflections:



“I think the media was quick to paint cop as a failure given the presence of the fossil fuel industry, but the expectations of the media are unrealistic given that every single country involved has to agree to the language” – Senam Adedze, UNC student

I got to attend a panel Dr. Hsu spoke on for which many congressional staffers were in attendance. Staffers asked pointed and insightful questions, wondering, for example, how to reconcile communication avenues and common ground despite some in attendance characterizing nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage as false solutions, some seeing these technologies as absolutely necessary, and some occupying a middle ground. Dr. Max Boykoff aptly referred to the necessity of “silver buckshot” as opposed to a silver bullet solution, but tensions regarding what exactly this silver buckshot will consist of did remain. This was the last full day of the conference I got to attend, and I left feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, hopeful, invigorated, exhausted, and many other conflicting emotions. I was incredibly grateful to attend, and yet at the same time it feels like the real work is just beginning.” – Hallie Turner, UNC student