My COP28 experience has now come to a close and I am back home recovering from the twofold setback of jet lag and a terrible cold I picked up during my final days in Dubai. On December 12th (my last day at COP28) I wandered around the Blue Zone with a friend and fellow Duke Student, Joy Reeves, who attended COP28 through the Christian Climate Observers Program.

The Blue Zone, which had been abuzz with activity just a day prior, was shutting down. Many pavilions had already closed and staff were taping up boxes. Others were hosting their final events and giving away remaining snacks and beverages. Singapore offered both cups of coffee and a special brand of beer made from recycled water that they called NEWBrew. At some point during our meandering, Joy and I came upon four domes that were part of a display neither of us had seen before.

They were called pollution pods. Three pods had mixtures simulating the pollution in Beijing, London, and New Delhi while the fourth offered solutions to clean up this pollution. Exacerbated by the thick smog blanketing Dubai every morning I was already starting to feel a scratchy throat and declined to enter the pods. I could smell the simulated smog from outside.

Dubai’s smog was a regular topic of conversation among our class. We were all wanting more information on its causes while we were there, data that is not available to its residents I later learned. A recently published Human Rights Watch report elucidated that the air pollution is dangerously high and cannot be solely attributed to naturally occurring dust storms. Fossil fuel extraction is a major source of the country’s poor air quality.

The mediocre results of COP28 are truly no surprise given that COP28’s Presidency was held by UAE oil executive Dr. Sultan Al Jaber who used the multilateral negotiations to broker new oil and gas deals. COP28 also admitted 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists outweighing every party delegation save for Brazil and the UAE according to The Guardian. Official Indigenous representatives were outnumbered 7-1 the same article reported. The calls by AOSIS, Indigenous peoples, YOUNGO, and scientists for a fast, equitable, and full phase-out of fossil fuels to limit warming to 1.5C were disregarded in the final text.

COP is incredibly important because it is the one space where the world is forced to come together to annually negotiate climate policy even if the result is weak. The process reminded me how much it requires accountability from civil society and how much more work is left to do back home. Many of us from civil society in attendance left feeling disheartened and angry, but we also left with newly formed and strengthened relationships with one another. Before leaving, we made our anger loud and clear at a final set of actions in the Blue Zone. We were so loud at the last one I attended the UNFCCC staff told us to quiet down. That made me proud and also hopeful. Our futures are on the line and we shouldn’t go quietly.