Cop28- Is it Time for Something New?

Kaitlin Dryburgh

Striving for positivity during the climate crisis is at the best of times, challenging. For those that have not chosen to stick their heads in the sand the pressing nature of the crisis is very much recognised. Therefore, when governments start to roll back on promises and water-down policies it’s disheartening to say the least. We know that a collective effort is needed, sharing of resources and skills, international collaboration and diplomacy is key to cutting down our carbon output. In theory the UN’s climate conferences should be an answer to solving our climate issues. It’s the biggest debating stage for multi-national decision making, the meeting of some of the smartest policy-makers, scientist and decision makers. Yet is seems the annual event has year on year become less hopeful and respected as an option to actually solve this crisis.

Although as I write this it is hoped that a “breakthrough” fossil fuel pledge could be on the cards, is it time to change the formula of the annual conference that takes no less than millions to put on and seems to be unable to achieve the landmark change that we so desperately need.

This year, COP28 may have outdone itself. Running from 30th November to 12th December the conference has been plagued with bad headlines and doubts over the host nations’ dedication to the cause. Never mind the poor governance in place that resulted in this nation becoming hosts.

United Arab Emirates are this year’s hosts, which for many is an instant red flag. Why would a country which seems determined to increase their oil production be the right choice for a climate conference? The host nation is mired in its oil profits and is in the top ten oil exporting countries in the world. Yes we have to bring people into the conversation, but does it seem appropriate for them to run the show quite literally?

To add salt to the wound the Cop28 president was revealed to be Sultan Al Jaber, who although has been a member of the UN’s advisory group on Energy and Climate Change for a while now, also remains the director-general and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). I guess that could be likened to McDonald’s running a World Health Organisation’s conference. The very notion that the president of an oil company can also run a climate conference is quite frankly baffling to the extremes. During his time at ADNOC he has gone on to up their oil production a considerable amount while remaining one of the only global oil companies that are continuously investing billions in their oil production. Although Al Jaber has tried to position himself and the company which he runs as allies for the climate by investing in renewable energies, most recently announcing that ADNOC will be partnering with Azerbajian’s state oil company to explore low-carbon energy solutions, in particular hydrogen. It is evident that the investment afforded to renewables is nothing in comparison to the expansion of oil and gas in UAE.

Not only are the interests of Al Jaber compromised it seems he holds some very worrying views. He has most recently claimed that there is no science which back-up claims that phasing out fossil fuels would help keep the earth’s temperature no more than that 1.5C rise from preindustrial temperatures. He makes no secret that he believes that we would be reverting back to some kind of cave-man society if we were to reduce fossil fuels. Its hard to have faith in these multi-national climate conferences when the governance of them don’t align with their aims. His comments regarding the lack of science could not be further from the truth but his sentiments that the reduction of fossil fuels would severely hurt the world economy is a missed opportunity. There is a huge potential in a green economy, new jobs, better industries and better living standards for some of the world’s poorest. We need action now, for the longevity of our planet and the people in it, but to think that there is not an economic argument for renewables energy etc is wrong, unless you’re the president of a national oil company that is.

Yet this Cop is laughably being used a vessel for oil talks. The BBC reported at the end of November that the UAE planned to use the conference to conduct business talks, that business being oil. Leaked briefing papers showed that the host nation planned on holding meetings with at least 15 countries. The papers show that the UAE wanted to expand fossil fuel projects with many countries and there were explicit talking points that delegates were instructed to bring up. When asked about it they simply stated that these talks were to remain private, while the UN reiterated that the host nation would be operating without bias. It is not clear if commercial negotiations did take place and the outcomes of those but Greta Thunberg’s “blah blah blah” comments seem to be rather true in this instance.

It was clear earlier in the year that this climate conference would be anything but non-biased. Journalists found that emails being sent and delivered to the Cop28 delegation in UEA have been accessible to ADNOC, even though the UN tried to claim that the Cop28 office was a complete standalone. Technical analysis found that the two organisations shared a server, which has now been rectified. This news however brought much criticism from politicians all over the world.

This year’s conference will also welcome a record number of individuals affiliated with oil and gas, 2,456, their numbers are higher than almost every other country attending. It seems that more than ever the oil and gas industry will have access and influence over debates and negotiations. Is there another sector or issue out there that provides such a voice for those who stand against it? Would the WHO ask the tobacco industry to the table, or would law enforcement agencies ask what’s best for criminal gangs? It’s so disheartening to know business interests are prioritised over the wellbeing of the most vulnerable.

Of course both Al Jaber himself and the UAE have been out and about trying to greenwash their reputation. It’s been claimed that Al Jaber has paid to have his Wiki page edited in order to exclude his involvement in oil and gas expansion, or to downplay his influence. While the UAE have used sports as a way of creating a better image, but when it comes to greenwashing nothing beats hosting an international climate conference. But the UN climate conferences should absolutely not be used for PR reasons and if they were genuinely being used a tool to solve the climate crisis it would not risk credibility with the current host country.

As the 28th conference will soon come to a close, we will have to wait and see what can be achieved. Yet, we know what needs to happen, we know the problem so why is there still a lack of overall recognition, policy solutions and implementation? International governance has always been a balancing act, how do you actually get a country to take more responsibility with their carbon output? It seems that the world will continue to suffer while politicians continue to fly large delegations in to be wined and dined, and talk and talk and talk. It’s been 28 years, time to get serious or change.

1 thought on “Cop28- Is it Time for Something New?”

  1. Hi Kaitlin,

    The last 27 CoPs have been abject failures. When you think the lowest depths have been plumbed, we have CoP 28 hosted by a country with the highest stakes in oil and gas. The oil and gas lobby owns this and their vested interests have won out. This CoP will be remembered as the worst ever for gaslighting and greenwashing.

    Having been an environmental activist all of my adult life, I’ve never felt more despair. Nevertheless, I’ll continue to protest. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that we will remain under the 1.5 degree ceiling. This will be exceeded and far sooner than expected. Everyone knows it.

    Alas, I have no new ideas how to shift the dial on this but I’ll fight it till my last breath. I’ll do that for our children, grandchildren, the generations to come and for the love of our planet.

    Have a great Christmas and New Year

    Best Regards,
    Susan Dyer

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