COP28 impressions by Barbara McCarthy

I spent two days at COP28 – towards the end of the conference, so I was mostly observing and accompanying Theresa O’Donohoe to various events around the impressive Expo site, where it took place. This was my first COP, so I didn’t have too many expectations as to what I would achieve, rather I was there to observe. As any first time COP delegate will attest, my main objective was to meet and engage with people and potentially form bonds beyond the conference. I work as a journalist, photographer and climate researcher so I wanted to meet people from all walks of life and find out their objectives.

There are two COPs happening – the official event, and meetings we see on TV and the networking that happens across the Expo site among delegates. The conditions for meeting people were perfect. From an organisational view, it was extremely well organised. What struck me particularly were the people from island nations, especially the Pacific who were dressed loudly, so they would be seen and people wouldn’t forget them. They said normally, they are not seen or heard, and this was their chance to be noticed.

COP in or Out? Did COP28 do what it should have done?

The hypocrisy of having a UN climate conference in the UAE wasn’t lost. I saw a drone airshow at night sponsored by ADNOC, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Cop 28 President Sultan Al Jaber’s is head of. Nonetheless, he described COP28 as “historic”, while others think it’s not enough.

Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems is essential, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.

The main points of the agreed COP28 resolution:

• Tripling renewable energy capacity
• Rapidly phasing down unabated coal and limiting the permitting of new and unabated coal power generation.
• Accelerating efforts globally towards net zero emissions energy systems.

In paragraph 29, COP recognised that ‘transitional fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security’. In a testament to the power of the gas lobby, this paragraph falsely represents gas as a climate-safe ‘transition fuel’.

I think the ‘transitioning away’ wording was a cop out. The term phase down is not as powerful as phase out and open to misunderstanding. Parties are called to ‘accelerate efforts’: this is not a commitment to take any action and sets no actual goals or implementation pathways. The word ‘unabated’ was vigorously pushed for by the fossil fuel lobby and fossil fuel producing countries, as it leaves room for them to continue producing fossil fuels while they explore abatement technologies.

Standing out. People from island nations wanted to make a mark at COP28

Response to the just and equitable approach to climate action:

The ‘justice and equity’ breakthrough came early in the conference, before I arrived, and was the agreement to establish a Loss and Damage Fun, with initial pledges being made by countries. Loss and Damage (L&D) refers to the negative consequences arising from unavoidable risks of climate change like rising sea levels, desertification, prolonged heat waves and extreme events like crop failures, extinction and bush fires. The deal sounded good, but there is a caveat. The €700m pledged by wealthy nationals covers less than 2% of what’s needed annually. Annual cost estimates stand at €100 to €580 bn. Also in Ireland, the funds promised weren’t new funds. The funds should be new, and not funds from existing commitments.

Sultan al Jaber – president of COP28.

I always get the feeling that like politics, promises are made when all eyes are on COP28, but as soon as the media disappears, it’s a different story. People return home and somehow the promises of COP28 seem far away. There are lots of platitudes-COP has been going since 1995 and thus far, commitments to fossil fuel reductions have only been on the agenda for the past few years.

King Charles warned of a “vast, frightening experiment” on the natural world and US climate envoy, John Kerry, announced a significant crackdown on methane emissions. Rishi Sunak made a brief appearance at the start of COP28, but blink and you will have missed it, while US president Joe Biden didn’t show up. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, said it was not possible to tackle the climate crisis without also tackling inequality. Meanwhile, Brazil announced it was aligning itself with Opec – the world’s biggest oil cartel. You do wonder if action is being taken. I think there should be a quarterly look at how far these pledges are being put into action. There’s a lot of talk at these events, but action is the only thing that matters.

A climate activist at COP28

Since climate negotiations began in 1992, more carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels has been released worldwide than in all preceding history, so there is urgency to action.

The problem with COP28 was that fossil fuel lobbyists swarmed the corridors and meeting rooms. COP28 was also heaving with meat and livestock lobbyists and reps from other planet-trashing industries. George Monbiot said: “What should be the most important summit on Earth is treated like a trade fair.” That said, there is humanity there, and heart- it’s about using that practically to make a difference without getting too ideological.

From a personal perspective, I would like to return to a COP and also thank Feasta for enabling me to go. I look forward to contributing deeper and am hoping to be more active next year – at COP29.

Barbara McCarthy with members of the Feasta youth group at Cop28.

Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members. 

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