Author: Eni Owoeye

COP28 and a quest towards more interdisciplinary and intersectional climate action

Going into COP28, I knew countries felt an obligation to make an ambitious statement. The mounting evidence chastising our inaction, the grassroots pressure mounting on governments and companies, and of course, the evidence of climate related disasters, all made reaching an agreement especially relevant. In the end, the transition away from fossil fuels alongside the inclusion of the Global Biodiversity Framework were good first steps. Yet, I know a lot of groups were disappointed with what they consider a lukewarm result.

I am impressed with how well the African bloc worked throughout the process. Based on my gatherings, COP28 was Africa’s most vocal climate summit. The African Climate Summit seemed to lay down key redlines that the bloc was unwavering on, even under pressure from more powerful players. I followed parts of the Global Goal on Adaptation and I know the negotiating bloc called for bolder action to reduce climate vulnerabilities. I later found out that the goal was proposed by the African Group of Negotiators in 2013 and has since lacked momentum since its integration of the 2015 Paris Agreement. While the Loss and Damages Fund was announced early on, I am glad the African negotiators, as well as many from Latin America, maintained pressure to get new commitments rather than repackaging other existing funding sources.

Overall, marine environments should have had a larger role in COP28. Conversations around maritime transportation, nature-based solutions, and blue carbon were central topics in certain realms within the COP framework. But the focus on loss and damage, finance, and other main themes lacked a comprehensive integration of how oceans could play a role in strategic planning.

I also wish I heard more integration of climate justice into talks hosted by pavilions and not just NGOs. The connection between war, politically instability, and environmental issues was something the WGC often incorporate into their positions. We should pause to see how many regions around the world, including Sudan, Congo, and Palestine, should push our capabilities to imagine what climate justice really looks like. I am really grateful to have taken part in a workshop sponsored by the International Labour Organization that had various stakeholders work through challenges and possibilities related to an equitable just transition. I feel like these types of workshops me grow both my understanding of why consensus building is so hard based on the variety of priorities in the room.

In the end, I hope the UNFCCC does more to ensure COPs can maintain their sense of legitimacy. When the COP28 president tries to obfuscate the connection between fossil fuel usage and anthropogenic climate change, this weakens the respectability of the process. Being at COP showed me the immense convening power the U.N. has to connect governments, private sector members, Indigenous and local communities, grassroots activists, researchers, and everyone in between. This alone is truly powerful. But, as more people get involved, the UNFCCC should prioritize solidifying monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to demonstrate social pressure isn’t the only thing to enforce the outcomes of talks.

How Gender is Shaping COP28

After a hectic and adrenaline filled first two days, I quickly realised I would need to hone in on the various constituency groups in order to better follow negotiations. The Women and Gender Constituency, WGC, quickly became home base while at COP. Started in 2009, the goal of WGC is to formalise the voice of women and gender civil society organisations active in the UNFCCC process. They advocate for a variety of positions developed through their members input.

This COP was an important stepping stone for advancing gender-climate related issues. COP28 had the first ever thematic day dedicated to gender. Many giants in the field, including my old boss, Ambassador Geeta Rao Gupta at the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, hosted fantastic talks and workshops throughout the day. I appreciated how intergenerational all the panels and speaking events were. Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) is one of the head coalition builders within WGC. Many of the leadership, including Mwanahamisi Singano and Bridget Burns, made sure to elevate the various voices in all spaces they were a part of and definitely helped me navigate the UNFCCC process.

The highlight of my COP experience was collaborating with Indigenous peoples and local community organisers. I connected with land rights activist during my first morning huddle with WGC and we attended nearly every session together throughout the rest of my COP experience. As an indigenous elder, she spoke passionately about her work and the women’s collective she is a part of in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She also connected me with networks of people she works with in Nigeria. To me, these kind of experiences are why COP is such a critical space. This COP has gotten a lot of pushback because of the outsized role fossil fuel players have had. While their presence shapes the UNFCCC process, the coalition building among non party actors has been equally impressive for me to witness. Especially because the information sharing and solidarity seems sustained from year to year based on my conversations with my colleague from the DRC.

So did I forget about oceans? Not really. Scrutiny on maritime shipping emissions and decarbonisation efforts had a larger part in this COP. I went to a few of the maritime and aviation fuel negotiations (yes, they exist!) and enjoyed getting to parcel together which country blocs advocated for more (or less) aggressive action within the sector. There was a great talk within the ocean pavilion that covered U.S. efforts to address maritime emissions within NOAA and the Department of Transportation. The transportation sector is the largest polluting sector in the United States and many components of industrial sector emissions are attributed to transportation related production materials. Therefore, many were confident that the UNFCCC will continue to highlight ocean-based solutions in NDCs and NAPs.

Overall, following both gender and ocean related issues was a fascinating experience that allowed me to see a lot of non governmental mobilisation efforts.

First Impressions on Oceans Related Issues at COP28

I’ve wanted to witness a COP in person since my first undergraduate environmental science class. The intrigue was simple. Here was this global effort that combines elements of so many concepts –science, legality, politics, finance, negotiations, and more — into multilateral cooperation and environmental governance for our planet. Stitching the fabric together  is complex, with success often framed through “agreements”, “protocols”,  and“funds”. As with many things, COVID-19 disrupted my opportunity to attend COP26 with my alma mater in 2021. Now, I am grateful I am attending COP28 as a student of environmental governance with much more work experience and exposure to the issues. 

At COP28, I am mainly tracking oceans. Ocean-based solutions mitigation and adaptation are gaining momentum within the UNFCCC. I was delighted to see a booth for the U.N. Decade in the Oceans pavillion because it elevates the call to greater invest in ocean science to fill gaps we aren’t aware of. This will better inform how we manage crucial systems, such as fisheries and marine protected areas. Even so, it seems that dialogue surrounding oceans are still siloed to specialists. Most people connect ‘sea-level rise’ and ‘extreme weather events’ when I first mention my interest in oceans. It’s only when I explain the economic, cultural, and social impact of oceans, the positive contributions they make, that it dawns on people. One woman and I had a fruitful conversation about the impacts of ocean-based jobs on gender, especially in inland water ways. This interdisciplinary probing is the exact reason why I think global forums like this are necessary.

Over the summer, I worked on global women’s issues with the U.S. Department of State, so I am also looking forward to following gender-climate related issues. I made a connection while eating lunch with a South African women that will be on a few panels throughout the week, although the majority of them are during week 2 when I will not be there. I think socialising really helps to personalise the experience with specialists outside of sessions. Many are busiest during the pre and post session preparation, so I am glad we are able to network before the thematic days for gender and oceans.  Our conversations make me more privy to how prior years’ dialogues went. It also illuminates which pavilions I should explore to learn more. 

Finally, I am surprised how many people I recognised throughout the day. As soon as I walked in, I saw a LinkedIn connection that also works with ocean conservation advocacy and youth activism. Another member of the U.S. Youth Advisory Council to the U.S. National Committee to the UN Ocean Decade was present, so we were able to reconnect after doing most of our organising virtually. I am looking forward to using the rest of my time here to explore other areas as well, such as public health and waste management. 

 Everyone always mentions the most important conversations are the informal ones at the water fountain or doing a coffee break. My first day experience shoes this doesn’t apply just for the negotiators. 

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