During Week 1 at COP28, I tried to get a taste of several activities at the conference. I attended various events: side events, negotiations/informal consultations, high-level plenaries and round tables, and constituency/civil society group meetings. Here are some consolidated thoughts concerning them.

The week began with an announcement by the COP President at the opening plenary declaring the establishment of a loss and damage fund and pledges to it. It seemed to many that by declaring a major goal of the COP as complete from the offset the presidency can direct focus towards it and declare the conference a success and detract focus from conversations around fossil fuel phase-out. This seems to be the sticking point that everyone is adamant will determine whether anything was accomplished at COP28. The COP President made statements claiming a phase-out was not backed by science and allowed thousands of fossil fuel lobbyists into the conference. More than the party delegates from the ten most vulnerable countries combined. This has made proponents of a phase-out even firmer with the members of BOGA stating at a press conference that COP28 cannot be successful if a phase-out of fossil fuels is not agreed upon. It will be interesting to see whether opinions will evolve throughout the negotiations.

During this week I was assisting the IISD Energy team with communications work. This included catching quotes for live tweeting and taking pictures. I was also able to attend a daily Climate Nexus comms huddle and see comms personnel from different organizations meet to discuss how to improve communications and align messages for maximum reach. They discussed things like making sure to always include messaging about “phasing in” renewables when mentioning fossil fuel phase-out, and highlighting what abatement means because public understanding is low. It was great to see civil society members uniting and collaborating for the same larger mission despite their organizations having different mandates.

Throughout my attendance at COP28, I have been wondering about my role and contribution to the conference and the different ways observers engage with the negotiations and each other. I worry that the hustle and bustle of side events distract from actual negotiations. And that the climate activists may serve their cause better by being hyper-focused on negotiation outcomes instead of having their attention divided between interacting with other organizations at side events. But COP is undeniably a great opportunity for activists, academics, and practitioners to network, share ideas, and meet clients whereas getting such a large international community together at another time would be impossible. IISD uses the conference to meet the governments they work with and provide negotiation consulting support to both Canada and developing country blocs. On the rest day of COP28, I was able to participate in Development and Climate Days: an event specifically for NGOs to connect and solve problems with the recognition that, regardless of what is decided during negotiations, these practitioners will continue to fight the same fight. While I am still unsure of whether my presence at COP added any value, I recognize that COP is more than just negotiations, and even if those fail there is value in the opportunity created to exchange ideas and feel solidarity.