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Why COP28 Was Doomed to Fail

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) meeting in Dubai, United Arab Emierates, ended this week with little to show for its efforts.  The Conference on Parties, meaning "all parties in the world," met for the 28th straight year, thus the name COP28.  The primary objective of each conference is to help the world avoid a global temperature rise of more than 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Scientists say this is the tipping point at which cataclysmic events will begin to take place like melting ice sheets, loss of coral reef, rising sea levels leading to massive land loss,human displacement, and chaotic ocean movements.  The conference which hosted leaders from 200 nations, including 154 heads of state, was doomed to failure from the start.  Why? 

First, the President of COP 28, Sultan Al Jaber ,is the chief executive of the United Arab Emirates' largest oil company, Adnoc.  Adnoc is now planning a massive expansion of its oil and gas operations. Before the meetings began, Al Jaber was planning to use them as a lobbying opportunity to sell his company's products.  He is a symbol and incarnation of the oil and gas lobbyists' control of the conference.  There were 2456 registered lobbyists for the conference in which 85,000 people attended.  The power of the lobbyists led to an outcome called "greenwashing," a term that signifies a group is giving the appearance of caring for the environment, but in reality is masking its continued degradation of the earth.  

Second, COP 28, like all previous COPs, requires consensus for approval of all major decisions.  This means that all 200 states have to agree on the language of the agreements, essentially giving veto power to each state attending.  The "pretrostates" as they are called, the states that are the largest producers of fossil fuels, like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates can wield the threat of veto to assure language is favorable to the fossil fuel industry.  In COP28, the significance of this power was seen in the consensus agreement to "transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems" rather than the more meaningful phrase "phase out from fossil fuel."  The "transition away" phrase is seen as yet another stalling tactic from the fossil fuel industry to maintain their profits as long as possible.  The lack of an agreement to phase out fossil fuels was devastating,” said Prof Michael Mann, a climatologist and geophysicist at the University of Pennsylvania in the US. “To ‘transition away from fossil fuels’ was weak tea at best. It’s like promising your doctor that you will ‘transition away from doughnuts’ after being diagnosed with diabetes.”   

Third, the commitment to third world countries producing the least amount of greenhouse gases yet experiencing the greatest impact of climate change, is too small and slow to make any real difference. The richest nations, including the U.S. and China have pledged a mere $400 million to a "Loss and Damage Fund" to compensate for disaster relief resulting from global warming extreme weather events. This, however, is a small fraction of the $400 billion needed annually. Bareesh Chowdhury, of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association, said: “Without money and means of implementation, the places worst hit by climate change are left with only empty pockets and empty promises. We need billions of dollars, we’ve been given peanuts, and even more debt to boot.” Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to extreme weather and slow-onset impacts such as sea level rise.   

Twenty-eight years after the first COP, greenhouse gases from fossil fuel emissions are expected to reach 37 million metric tons this year, the most in history.  While governments have made some pledges to reduce emissions by 2030, most are far from their target goals, including the U.S. Without a drastic decrease in the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, the earth is on a trajectory of more severe weather events, leading to a tipping point that would alter civilization as we know it.

We are seeing the impact of climate change already. 2023 not only will hold the record for most greenhouse gas emissions, it will also be the hottest year in recorded history. The scientific prognostications of the 1970s are coming to fruition in remarkable fashion today. As was predicted global temperatures are increasing, sea levels are rising, species are being extinguished, and extreme weather events are becoming normalized.

All of this supports the claim that the Conference of the Parties has been hijacked by fossil fuel lobbyists and the petrostates within which they muster their credibility.  Climate activist Greta Thunberg said COP28 was "a stab in the back" of all the nations that are most impacted by climate change.

Next year's COP29 will be held in Azerbaijan, another petrostate, thus promising more of the same. Fossil fuel lobbyists and petrostates will show up in force, protecting their short-term interests. The trajectory we are on, leading to a chaotic future, appears to be unaffected by anything happening at COPs. Something has to change.  Of course, something IS going to change. The change can be intentional or it can be destructive. In either case, the change will come.

Perhaps we should leave behind the COPs and create a structure more likely to save us from ourselves.  


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