Teaching COP28:
What Is It and Why Is It Important?

What Is COP28?

Looking for the right time to start a conversation about climate change in your classroom? Consider having it during COP28, when the United Nations annual Climate Change Conference will vault climate change to the top of everyone’s newsfeed. For two weeks, from November 30th to December 12th, the world’s heads of state will meet in Expo City Dubai to discuss ideas, prior commitments, and strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will also bring together youth activists, artists, advocacy organizations, and business owners from the private sector from all over the world who are committed to fighting climate change together. 


What is COP28? COP stands for Conference of the Parties, where the “parties” refers to the 198 nations, including the United States, that agreed to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. This year marks the 28th time countries have gathered under the Convention; hence, COP28.  

History of the UN’s Conference of the Parties

The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995, and set the stage for the signing of the Kyoto Protocol two years later – the first UN treaty to express a shared commitment to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol was a landmark deal when it was signed, although the United States refused to sign on because it only bound the “developed” nations. 


The most momentous UN Conference on Climate Change to date took place in Paris, France in 2015 at COP21. Then, all 197 parties reached a landmark agreement to limit the global temperature increase to below 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, now famously known as the Paris Agreement or Paris Climate Accords. It superseded the Kyoto Protocol, was signed by the United States (unlike Kyoto), and required all participating countries to commit to reducing emissions. It went into force in 2016.


In climate treaties like the Paris Agreement, each country that is a signatory develops and implements its own plans to meet its expressed goals. The annual UN conferences are the parties’ way of keeping each other accountable and building on the progress of the previous year’s agreements. It also aims to promote a culture of inclusivity bringing global powers, like the United States and China, into conversation with small island countries like Tuvalu and Dominica. Though sometimes contentious, these conversations often lead to action. Last year, at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, for example, participating nations agreed, for the first time, to create a Fund for Loss and Damages for developing countries that have been disproportionately and negatively impacted by climate change


This year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber serving as the COP president. Like Egypt, the UAE exists in a region uniquely vulnerable to climate change because of its proximity to rising sea levels and susceptibility to heat waves and droughts. It is also in a region extremely dependent on fossil fuels, which, of course, are key drivers of global greenhouse gas emissions. COP28 will culminate with the first global stocktake, which will allow stakeholders to evaluate the effectiveness of efforts such as emissions reduction, sustainable development, mitigation strategies, and energy transition in reaching the global goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius.

Climate education will be a major theme of this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference. There is growing recognition that climate education will be integral to providing students the requisite knowledge and skills to build climate-resilient communities, investigate clean energy options, embrace sustainability practices, invest in renewable energy, and move towards a net-zero future.

Learn About

Climate Politics

Climate Politics

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Sustainable Development Goals
Climate Change Inequality
Who Is Responsible for Climate Change?


Get to know the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Because IPCC!

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Because IPCC! [Graphic Novel]
Climate Change 2021: Summary for All

IPCC's Report

This 16 page report explains climate change using illustrations, infographics, and graphs to help readers understand the content. It details how our climate has changed, how we know it is our actions that are to blame, and what is need to stop it. 

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International Climate Policy

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The Inflation Reduction Act
How the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Works
State Climate Policy Tracker

Keep Up to Date with Trackers and Data

Climate Action Tracker: Countries

Climate Action Tracker

This interactive tool provides data on countries' emissions targets, historical emissions, modeled domestic pathways, fair share targets, and more. 

CAST Data Portal: Policy Dashboard

CAST Data Portal:
Policy Dashboard

This interactive dashboard displays data on a variety of countries' support for or opposition to the Paris Agreement, climate assemblies, and five potential climate policies. 

Bring climate policy to life in your classroom with these innovative simulations. 

Tap into the excitement around COP28 to incorporate a climate policy simulation into your classroom. Simulation-based learning has proven to be more effective than traditional lessons at engaging students and helping them to retain information. Simulations help students apply their knowledge, improve their critical thinking skills, and provide practice in public speaking. Because simulations help students to see the tradeoffs involved in “real world” policy debates, they also cultivate a more nuanced understanding of climate policy than traditional lessons, as well as illustrating the importance of cooperation and compromise in their practice. Below are four innovative class simulations that can help build these skills and bring climate policy to life.

Global Climate Change Policy Simulation

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

Interested in creating a mock simulation of a UN Climate Conference? This resource walks students through a simulation of a National Security Council (NSC) meeting just before a major international climate summit like COP28. Students are assigned roles as NSC representatives, each with their own perspective. The resource outlines the main issue and the diction point for the NSC meeting, and a list of external research links is included to help students focus their research and write their pre-meeting policy memorandum. A web-based simulation tool is provided to streamline the whole process.

This simulation provides an immersive introduction to global climate change policy. It’s also an excellent way to prompt students to synthesize different resources (text, video, etc.) for developing evidence-based arguments. The case study’s focused questions and built-in assessments help students prepare for their roles as they move through the simulation. Lastly, the case study includes a number of excellent videos to keep students engaged. 

Since there is quite a bit of background research involved, I recommend scheduling some of the linked videos and readings as homework so students can work on their assigned roles during class time. This simulation would also work really well as preparation for a Model UN Event. Like a Model UN Event, students will learn about international relations, climate negotiations, and diplomacy through a simulative role-play scenario. Depending on your class or Model UN group size, this would take one to three weeks to complete. It’s the most involved of the simulations discussed here, but potentially will have the greatest impact.

Solar Geoengineering Simulation

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

Solar engineering deals with the systems and products that operate on solar power. Sounds pretty uncontroversial, right? Well, there’s actually a really interesting debate around solar geoengineering as a possible solution to climate change. In this class activity, students read an article in class describing solar geoengineering’s merits and drawbacks. Students then choose one of the three provided stances and take part in a discussion or debate. Guided discussion questions are provided to both help frame and deepen a conversation that’s more nuanced than it appears on its face.

Solar Geoengineering Simulation

This ready-to-go, interdisciplinary downloadable lesson plan helps students see the intersection of science and public policy. Social Studies and English Language Arts teachers can also use this resource to develop their students’ writing, research, and critical thinking skills. For example, teachers could have students further research solar engineering and then write a persuasive essay or letter to their congressional representative defending their chosen stance. 

No prior science knowledge is required; however, teachers should define the terms solar engineering, carbon capture technology, and decarbonizing prior to having students read the article. Either individually, in small groups, or as a class, encourage students to create a list of the costs and benefits associated with solar geoengineering before firing up the discussion. If there are students who have anxiety with public speaking, consider having them present their ideas in writing instead, or work in groups with a designated spokesperson.

Stopping Deforestation in the Amazon Simulation

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

The Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, is rapidly disappearing, with most of the deforestation occurring in Brazil. Its disappearance not only threatens to wipe out the thousands of species that make their home there, it also exacerbates the effects of climate change worldwide. In this simulation, students act as National Security Council (NSC) members meeting to discuss whether the United States should intervene and, if so, which method would be best. Included is an excellent article detailing the crisis while being mindful of the United States’ fragile diplomatic relationship with Brazil. After reading the article, students choose (or are assigned) one of the three policies to defend in the model NSC meeting. This can also be done as a debate or discussion instead.

Stopping Deforestation in the Amazon Simulation

This resource is a nice self-contained simulation that can easily be accomplished in one day or more. For example, if an English Language Arts or Social Studies teacher wanted to extend the lesson by one day, they could have their students debrief after the mock NSC meeting, decide which method is best, and then write a group letter to a policymaker urging adoption. Because the simulation shows students how fragile and complicated international diplomacy is, it could also help prepare students to participate in a Model UN Conference.

Consider providing students with a little background knowledge before asking them to read the article. For example, before asking students to take part in a model NSC meeting, show them a short video of one being done. To better understand the need for decisive action, students might also benefit from seeing the pace of deforestation in a video like this one from NASA

C-ROADS Climate Solutions Simulator 

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College

At every United Nations Climate Change Conference, countries make pledges for how much they intend to reduce their own carbon emissions. Are these pledges real? The C-ROADS is an online computer simulator that helps people understand the impact of greenhouse gas reduction pledges proposed by countries to the United Nations. It includes both global and regional modes. It is completely free to use. And it can be accessed both online and as a desktop app (for Windows and Mac).

C-ROADS Climate Solutions Simulator 

This is an absolutely terrific simulation for those who are mathematically or technologically inclined. The simulator’s help section includes a lot of information, including video guides, that makes it easy to use. Still, read the user guide and try it out yourself before using it in the classroom.

This is a really versatile resource. In civics classes, it can be used as a policy workshop or role-playing game. In Geography, Environmental Sciences, Mathematics, and Social Studies courses, you can use this simulation to help your class assess the impact different regions and individual nations can have on reducing global climate change.

Final Thoughts

COP28 will be historic. A record 70,000 delegates from around the world are expected to participate. That’s twice as many as participated in COP27 in Egypt and COP26 in Scotland. Sure, it’ll be messy and contentious. But COP28 will undoubtedly provide a valuable teaching moment for helping students understand the complexities and tradeoffs involved in solving the climate crisis. Why not take advantage of the hype surrounding it to engage your students around international climate policy? Students will thank you for it!

Our COP28 Guide  

was thoughtfully created in collaboration with our partners, CFR Education & TAG.

CFR Education aims to close the global literacy gap in our country by providing accessible, accurate, and authoritative global affairs resources to educators and students, through award-winning educational products: World101, Model Diplomacy, and Convene the Council. Leveraging best pedagogical practices and Council on Foreign Relations expertise, CFR Education’s supplemental resources teach complex global affairs and foreign policy issues to the next generation. Committed to supporting educators as they take on this crucial work, CFR Education offers two Ambassador programs, professional development activities, and curated teaching resources, including lesson plans, reading guides, and editable presentations.

Take Action Global (TAG) is a leading education non-profit 501(c)3 organization committed to climate education for all and equitable educational learning opportunities for global educators and PreK-grade 12 students. Over five years, TAG has served over 3.5 million students and educators from 153 countries through online learning programs and has supported over 83,000 tree plantings. Take Action Global brings communities together in online spaces for authentic learning experiences, including Climate Action Project, Climate Action Day, and Climate Action Schools. TAG partners include international experts and world leaders, including the UN, UN Environmental Programme, Earth Day Organization, NASA, LEGO Group, Cartoon Network, Fridays for Future, the U.S. Department of State, and the Jane Goodall Institute. Event speakers have included Prince William, Dr. Jane Goodall, Rick Davis (Mars Expedition, NASA), and Sir David Attenborough. 

About the Author

Michael Zis taught at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN from 2003 to 2022, teaching jointly in the Political Science and Environmental Studies Departments and representing Macalester at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. When not writing blogs, Michael enjoys discovering new TV shows to binge with his partner, watching his three boys play ultimate frisbee and soccer, and being gobsmacked by their mischievous Siamese kitten, Chuck.