COP28 – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

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What COP28 Means For Communicating Climate Action


COP28 is the 28th annual United Nations climate conference, where 197 Parties (196 countries plus the European Union) meet to discuss how to limit and prepare for climate change.

The COP28 Presidency set out four key pillars, calling on global stakeholders and governments to provide practical solutions across these pillars that are intended to unite the world and keep 1.5C within reach.
– Fast-tracking a just, orderly, and equitable energy transition;
– Fixing climate finance
– Focusing on people, lives and livelihoods
– Full inclusivity

Year after year, COP comes under scrutiny by on-lookers and for good reason too. This year’s summit was the same. COP28 was hosted in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As you can imagine, a climate conference hosted in a petrochemical state comes with a fair amount of scepticism and controversy. But without understanding what really goes on behind those closed doors in the negotiation rooms, it’s hard to pass judgement.

We took the opportunity to catch up with former COP delegate Stan Townsend at the start of COP28 at our Sustainable Business Breakfast. Check out the video below to hear Stan’s thoughts on COP in a 60 summary!

 

In this blog, Stan gives us an insider’s view of the many angles of COP28 and the outcomes of this year’s negotiations. Stan shares his thoughts on the good, the bad and the ugly of COP28.

 

For me, humour is a tool to bring light to the ever-irrational and complex world we all live in. So when asked to talk about my experiences at COPs, something that evokes both the deepest of motivations and possibly PTSD, I was drawn to explain the good, the bad and the ugly.

This article attempts to frame the UN Climate Process based on inside experience, what it means for communicating action on climate change and where we go from COP28.

The Good

  • Nearly the entire world, all 196 ‘Parties’, come together to discuss climate action – A mammoth effort to ensure addressing climate change has global standing.
  • We have frameworks that could and should work – the landmark Paris Agreement covers everything from equity to finance to representation of minority voices. 
  • A forum where non-state actors can engage with governments – where academics and activists can find a platform for accountability and knowledge.

The Bad 

  • The process is clearly not fit for purpose currently – we’ve had 28 conferences, yet progress is incremental in the face of transformative needs.
  • Opaque and nebulous – it’s hard to follow a COP as a negotiator, some might say intentionally so.
  • Host dynamics – COPs are expensive to host. Hence, petrochemical states find it easier to front the costs. A COP presidency holds the pen and brokers the arrangements, which can present a conflict of interest.

The Ugly

  • The sway of superpowers – whilst the COP process is consensus-based, the major global economies have a major influence.
  • Dark diplomatic arts – the closed rooms are no joke. COPs are vulnerable to all diplomatic issues that don’t involve climate change.
  • It’s chaos – I left my first COP playing out the ironic (but sincerely telling) symmetry of being completely personally burnt out at the world’s most important climate conference that aims to avoid planetary burnout.

So, what do we take from COP28?

A quote that lives with me from our lead negotiator within the UK delegation: a successful negotiation leaves everyone a little disappointed (and equally motivated, I’d add!)

What does this mean for sustainable communications?

  • Understand where to use your voice – COPs will surface the sticking points and where significant barriers to progress lie. Find the fight.
  • Be part of and build coalitions – agency is in the relationships we foster, and change means working with others. Amplify your voice and that of others.
  • Change is now – COP is ultimately about enabling change on the ground. Act where you are, with what you have, with who surrounds you.

Understand where to use your voice – Disrupting greenwash

Big Oil has been feeling the heat. Beyond the negotiated agreements, one of the most critical dynamics at this COP has been the public and global scrutiny of the worldwide fossil fuel industry. The absurd ‘logic’ that ‘we need more oil to have less oil later’ has come into contact with reality globally. The stark reality is that we are way off track in collectively addressing climate change (for those who didn’t know already)!

We’ve heard statements from the COP President that there’s “no science” behind demands for phase-out of fossil fuels and leaked letters of panic from the OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) cartel to member states to “proactively reject” any agreement that targets fossil fuels over emissions. COP28 finally concluded on a compromise ‘transitioning away from fossil fuels’.

For many of us, phasing out fossil fuels is the logic, and the science is clear. The fossil fuel industry knows this and will continue to play the tobacco playbook. Marketing and public perception are critical. The time to disrupt the playbook and double down on fossil fuel greenwash is now.

Be part of and build coalitions – Amplifying the voice of those most vulnerable

Another long-term fight that has seen progress at COP28 is for those who have played a historic role in causing climate change to provide funds for ‘losses and damages’ to those facing the brunt of a changing climate, who have played little to no role in causing it.

Finally, after decades of battling, a loss and damage fund was established at COP28. A mechanism for financial pledges, under interim management by the World Bank, now sits at $700m (at time of writing). That may sound like a lot of money, but it’s nowhere near the sums needed – less than 0.2% of the economic and non-economic losses developing countries face yearly from global warming. 

The fight for climate justice is not over, but it has taken a significant turn. I once heard Rowan Williams describe ‘solidarity’ as “taking and sharing risks with others.” The voices of the global south and those most vulnerable to climate change need amplifying.

Change is now – showing leadership and communicating creatively

COP28 also saw the first Global Stocktake (GST) of collective progress towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement – mitigation, adaptation and finance. New pledges were made, but so far, they are not enough to demonstrate the target of ‘1.5 is alive’ – an ambitious target widely recognised as a safer limit that humanity can handle, which is of enormous importance to small island states and the most vulnerable countries.

Governments have the big levers (fiscal policy, regulation, budget spending etc). By and large, they are not being pulled, and they must be. Alongside this is a massive challenge and failure to communicate climate change effectively to the public and build citizen agency.

What can we do?

Show leadership where there is none and an ambition true to the challenge, work against the grain. Find creative ways to communicate what climate change means to people in a way that builds agency stories, not stats.

By Stan Townsend, ex-UK climate negotiator and now independent consultant powered by active hope and the wisdom of nature. Mostly working in his homelands with political parties to put Wales on a pathway to becoming the world’s leader in climate action. Find out more by heading to Stan’s website www.stantownsend.com

Written by
Bonnie Middleton