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COP 28 Reflections – The Charade of a UAE Consensus

COP 28 has come and gone, but the world is left with the consequences of its outcomes—for the next twelve months, at least. The conference, which was supposed to be a pivotal moment in the global fight against climate change, turned out to be a largely underwhelming affair—a presidency-led process failing to deliver the transformative action that the world desperately needs.

When the announcement was made of Sultan Al-Jaber as the president of COP 28, it was unsurprisingly greeted with protests and pushback from climate justice activists worldwide, insisting that the interest of climate justice would not be served in a conference of the parties presided over by a CEO in the same industry notoriously responsible for aggravating the crisis sought to be solved- the fossil industry. Al Jaber is the founding Chief Executive of Masdar, one of the biggest oil companies in the world, as well as CEO and Managing Director of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Despite the substantiated pushbacks, the COP went ahead without heeding Civil Society’s call. The undeniable conflict of interest was demonstrated by the COP president sooner than expected, in an interview with the chair of the Elders group for climate change, Mary, on November 21, 2023, where he made comments such as ‘There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C…’ and ‘…Show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development unless you want to take the world back into caves”. It was therefore not shocking to see a COP which prioritised polluting corporations and countries while tactically shifting impossible responsibilities on the already overburdened countries of the global south and vulnerable communities across the globe.   

“The first indicator of conflicting interests was the saddening record-breaking infiltration of the COP28 space by over 2,400 registered representatives and lobbyists of polluting corporations—’At least 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists,’ as the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition puts it. This is an alarming explosion from the 636 recorded at the previous COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The overarching theme of COP28 was coined as “accelerated action” to address the climate crisis. However, the final agreement, the UAE Consensus, fell far short of this paraded ambitious goal, and seemed, instead, like a deceleration of any possible progress towards the achievement of global emission targets. The so-called consensus was riddled with several vague commitments, such as the need to “phase out” fossil fuels, without concrete timelines or targets.

Particularly disappointing was the lack of progress on the issue of climate finance. Developed countries mostly of the Global North, historically responsible for the ecological damage of frontline communities and continued exponential greenhouse gas emissions, have continued to evade responsibility while projecting the posture of climate champions. In a grandstanding style,

COP28 was another exercise in greenwashing and promotion of false solutions. Scientifically unproven “solutions” such as carbon capture, carbon offset, and geoengineering have continued to be pushed and shoved at developing countries with arm-twisting by countries like the US and Saudi Arabia, while tactically resisting demands for equitable, funded and fast fossil fuel phase-out, despite overwhelming evidence that carbon trading schemes have enabled continued pollution of the climate. This is the fundamental argument for real emissions cuts. The same reluctance is evident in the COP outcomes.

Given how much the Dubai COP outcomes have been praised by fossil industry players, including the US Oil industry and TotalEnergies, it is all the indicator needed to realise whose interest the COP has served. Fossil corporations and non-fossil polluters have acclaimed the Dubai COP as having included an “unprecedented reference to transitioning away from all fossil fuels in energy systems”, but this call for an “orderly transition” in itself gives room for concern, as the reference to phase-out is without any meaningful or actionable framework, while the language of urgency is muted.  It is unsurprising that despite the criticisms and expressions of dissatisfaction of Global South countries and the Civil Society of the COP outcomes, oil companies and fossil executives have continued to celebrate the COP and its outcomes!

In contrast to what is now evidently a tough-talking process devoid of real actions, the text “Encourages Parties to accelerate “ambitious, economy-wide emission reduction targets” in their next nationally determined contributions.  While one would agree that the language is almost captivating, it is also evident that encouragement is a passive language in a process meant to tackle a real and urgent crisis.

Governments of global North countries also failed to deliver on the promised $100 billion per year in climate adaptation funding for the Global South, betraying vulnerable countries already bearing the brunt of climate impacts while contributing the least. Rich countries responsible for 80% of emissions refused calls for financial compensation for irreparable “loss and damage” inflicted on frontline communities.

The failure to establish a clear timeline and roadmap for the full, funded, equitable and urgent phase-out of all fossil fuels – the only strategy that can keep warming below catastrophic levels – is ridiculously hypocritical. This has reinforced the sidelining of proposals for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, while petrostates continue to push fossil fuel expansion projects.

I am deeply concerned that COP28 will set back efforts to address climate change, with a most pretentious outlook and will make it even more difficult to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. The world needs far more ambitious and effective action than was seen in Dubai.

The time for half-measures is over. We need to act now with the required sense of urgency and determination that the climate crisis demands. We need to transition away from fossil fuels, invest in renewable energy, and protect our forests.

Contrary to the propaganda of success being championed by pro-industry enthusiasts and propagandists, the 28th Conference of the Parties in Dubai will go down yet as another failure in the decades-long effort to meaningfully address climate change. Behind lofty rhetoric and hollow commitments, the lack of urgency and political will from world leaders has put our planet on the precipice of catastrophic warming.

The climate clock is ticking down, the fires are burning, the floods are rising – there can be no more industry-led COP processes. We the people must mobilize to force the urgent system-wide transformations that climate science and justice demand. Our future hangs in the balance.

Aderonke Ige is a Climate Justice Activist, Human Rights lawyer and Development practitioner from Nigeria.

Photo credit: Zhong Shengxiong

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