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Reflections on COP 28: A positive but timid step forward

A member blog post by

Frances Guy

Scotland's International Development Alliance

I was privileged to be able to attend COP 28 for a few days this year in Dubai, taking advantage of being in the region for other purposes. The only other COP I have attended was in Glasgow, so I cannot claim to be a veteran of these experiences. What I offer is a few personal reflections.

The venue was vast having been created for EXPO 2020, but once you got your head round the layout and the long distances to walk in the still relatively hot sun (preferable for many to standing in the rain and cold in Glasgow!) it became manageable. Early morning queues seem an inevitable downside of such enormous events but are always democratic levellers. It is worth noting that the big numbers come from the official delegations (over 50,000 people) and not necessarily NGO observers, even if the latter are more colourful and noisier!  It ought to be possible to reduce the size of future COPs even whilst continuing to encourage diverse voices and participation.

As has been widely reported this year there was a heavy private sector presence, many no doubt looking for investment money from wealthy Gulf states. Generally though, the opportunity to mix and hear different views was not taken up by many. The massive number of events and discussions going on meant that the women climate activists largely went to their own events, the multilateral banks to each other’s, and the private sector to the side events promoted by the UAE. This is a pity as one of the great positives of such a jamboree is that there are all sorts of voices and views in one space, and beyond the official negotiations it is an important opportunity to influence each other.

The Scottish Government did well to have a space with the Local Government and Municipal action group in the multilevel action pavilion (long winded but an accessible space championing local engagement and separate from the UK Government pavilion). This allowed the First Minister to share space with forward looking local Governments from Brazil and Sweden, and to appear alongside Al Gore to a packed audience! Despite a good deal of residual goodwill towards Scotland for enabling some movement on Loss and Damage at COP 26, the First Minister’s expressed aim to become the renewable capital of Europe was met with no applause (do I suspect a trace of scepticism at Scottish Government announcements?)

And what of the results of COP 28? The agreement on the Loss and Damage Fund on the first day was a positive boost but so far the funds committed are peanuts compared to the needs, so continued action will be needed to keep pressure up on historical and actual polluters to pay into the fund. The moving stories from Tuvalo and other island states speak to the urgency.

This was the first COP to include sessions on health and on food, both of which were very important, especially given that the food sector accounts for up to 30% of global carbon emissions. There was no mention of food in the final outcomes statement, but there is a commitment from most states to integrate food production into their national determined contributions by 2025. Food was also mentioned in the Global Stocktake. There is space to advocate for more action here at the national level. It seems important that the World Bank committed to ensuring that 45% of its financing from 1st June 2024 would be for climate related projects, but as some commentators have pointed out, there is a case that all development funding now should be climate related if the world is to meet its targets. But there is a danger that this is a recipe for double counting, and a means to avoid the massive increase in funding that is needed.

Rays of hope were offered by uplifting stories from around the world. Perhaps foremost amongst these is Colombia’s commitment to work for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty; the biggest gas and coal producer to do so and following their commitment earlier this year to the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, something the Scottish Government has so far refused to do. See also Colombia’s story on greening cities for further ideas on what can really make a difference (city councils please note – a cost effective way to improve wellbeing)

As surprising as it seems this was the first COP to actually mention the need to transition away from fossil fuels. The disconnect between those woolly words and the stark reality that emissions need to be reduced by 43% from 2019 levels by 2030 were as big as the disconnect between the story told by the UAE of coming from a Bedouin society that respects the use of resources, and the blazon energy over consumption of Dubai today. But while we can criticise the oil states for continuing to plan on increasing exploration, the reality is that the biggest consumers are elsewhere.  Reducing emissions by nearly 50% in 6 years requires the developed economies of the world to move much faster to cut consumption and transition to greener alternatives for energy, transport and agriculture.  Plenty for all of us to do!

For those that wish to understand more about how debt was covered at COP 28, please read: COP28 outcomes for debt justice: a legacy of deepening debt crisis – Debt Justice

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