Author: Dania Nasir

Is this how COP should look?

COP28 has concluded with the Presidency announcing it as a success because it finally includes some fossil fuel language. However many are dissatisfied due to factors such as a lack of differentiated timelines for developed and developing countries and the plethora of loopholes in the texts.

With the COP concluded, I have been thinking about its structure and how conducive the environment created by the conference is for a globally beneficial agreement. In the first week, most negotiations and informal consultations were scheduled for an hour. That is not enough time for each member state to speak or process what has been said and respond. Would it not be better to have a reasonable agenda for each meeting and stay until it is fulfilled? As the days passed these meetings got longer but so did the calls for informal informal meetings (inf infs). Why didn’t these conversations happen before COP itself? Climate talks in Bonn during the summer are meant to be agenda setters for COP but this year there was limited progress due to multiple disagreements. And again on the first day of COP28, the opening plenary was delayed due to disagreements over agenda. When so much time is spent simply on deciding what to talk about, how can we have honest compromises on actual language?

I was able to sit in on half an informal consultation on the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance after watching a couple of negotiations and consultations on the topic from overflow rooms and was surprised to see the number of delegates not paying attention to the speaker. After hours in overflow rooms, I almost stopped trying to get into actual negotiation rooms but I am glad I didn’t because then I would not have been able to see the EU scoff when Egypt spoke or watch Nepal and Gambia whispering throughout. It often felt like people were speaking and no one was really listening. Everyone knows each other’s positions and it seems the powerful few want to maintain the status quo with the guise of wanting progress.

An artificial deadline of two weeks is imposed on climate negotiation to force an agreement. Is this helpful or does it just mean that delegations have to leave without reaching a satisfying conclusion due to time constraints? When so much is at stake, it seems silly to play into any artificial constraints. The Global Stocktake text was passed while Samoa, the spokesperson of AOSIS, was still making their way to the venue. No objections were made to the text, even though several nations stated displeasure. I felt as though everyone was too tired and worn out from two weeks of late nights and early mornings, with immune systems wrecked from too much coffee and interacting with people from all over the world, to put up a real fight and just wanted the conference to end regardless of the outcome. Many of the texts were not even drafted till the last couple of days.

I wonder if the format of these negotiations and its top-down approach that reinforces existing power dynamics is the way we will solve our climate crisis. I hope we find quicker, more equitable, and more just solutions so we can act in true solidarity.

Mid-COP Observations

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.

First Thoughts on Attending COP28

Thoughts Before COP:
A couple of days ago the BBC published a report stating that leaked briefing documents revealed the UAE’s plans to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 nations. The article quotes Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the head of the COP20 summit in Peru in 2014, saying he “worries a collapse in trust could mean no progress on tackling climate change in Dubai.” I wonder whether this straw will break the camel’s back. But it seems to be just another form of suppression and misdirection. Strangely, Dubai puts so much emphasis on making this the largest COP and emphasizing inclusion yet is stifling the attendees. Protestors are not allowed to use flags or mention party states by name. How will protesting against ideas and concepts instead of against the actions of specific parties pressure nations to change their ways?

Meeting my Client:
This week, I will be helping out Paulina Resich, the senior communications manager at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Today we met up to plan our next couple of days and I learned about the strategy behind communication work and how important it is to have consistent coherent messages. She talked about the power NGOs have when their communications personnel collaborate and release communications using unified language. Meetings between different communications teams happen at COP and throughout the year to make sure the public is getting the same consistent and factual messages from all the organizations. This alignment ensures that each message is amplified and has more legitimacy. She talks about how different communications work is in this sector compared to the private sector. The former works to build community and promote each other’s materials while the latter only competes. I am very interested in diving into the world of communications with this new perspective and appreciation for its importance.

Attending Events:
I attended a few side events today but the one that stood out most to me was “Changing course to keep below 1.5˚C: WWF expectations for COP 28”. The President of WWF spoke about how the need for adaptation is due to the failure of mitigation. And the need for loss and damage is the failure of adaptation. He went on to talk about who really pays for loss and damage. He brought up Pakistan’s 2022 flooding and how it was calculated to have caused $42 billion in damage but only $8 billion was pledged to them to rebuild and only $700 million was ever received by the government. The rest of the $41 billion was paid by the poorest of the poor. A farmer whose house is washed away will not wait for a loss and damage fund to pay to rebuild his house. He will sell his cattle, his only investments, to pay to have a roof over his head again. He will pull his fifteen-year-old daughter out of school and marry her off so she has stability. I hope these realities are portrayed effectively on the negotiating floor and catalyze change.

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