UPDATE – the second draft of the climate agreement proposed by the COP28 presidency does not include any references to a complete phase-out of fossil fuels, in spite of the all-round condemnation across the globe for the initial draft’s failure to do so. An excerpt from The Guardian’s latest article about this:
“Instead, it (the second draft) called on countries to contribute to global efforts to transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems “in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.
Have you ever tried to convince a reluctant friend to come to a party with you because you really wanted to go but didn’t want to go alone? If so, you can probably imagine how that kind of conversation tends to go: you try to get them to commit, to decide on what time you’re going to meet, and where. Perhaps, you’ll even attempt to hash out the logistics of who’s getting drinks, who’s going to travel with who, and so on.
In this scenario, your reluctant friend might, in an attempt to save face and avoid hurting your feelings, use vague, non-committal language along the lines of ‘yeah, we could meet at X and hang out with Y – give me a couple of hours to think about it and I’ll let you know’.
For all you know, they could already be in their onesie and nodding off on the sofa, but you’ll nonetheless hope this person comes through so you can go to the party.
By now, you’re probably wondering why I’m starting an article about how COP28 is the failure we all hoped it wouldn’t be with such a plain analogy. I did so because even I am burnt out from reading my own explanations about the nightmare inducing saga that this COP28 has been, and because effectively translating the magnitude of a complex crisis that has been swept under the carpet for decades is my duty as a journalist.
I am also doing so because it is a simple way of painting this particularly grim picture – for decades, every climate scientist across the world has been constantly experiencing that same feeling you might have felt with your reluctant friend a hundred fold. Not only are world governments reluctant to ‘go to the party’ – resolving the climate crisis, in this case – some of the very worst ones want to plant their arses firmly on the sofa while the world burns.
Rather than innocuously wanting to avoid hurting your feelings in the same way our hypothetical reluctant friend might, governments are keen on warping not just your feelings but also your very perception of the situation. Unprincipled politicians who just want to get through their term and sail off towards the increasingly hot sunset on a yacht the planet can’t afford will say anything to make it look like they’re doing something.
Allowing the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of the world’s biggest oil powerhouses, to completely hijack the agenda of a climate conference which may very well be our last shot at averting catastrophe, was always going to be downright suicidal. It is no surprise, therefore, that the draft version of the summit’s final resolution is a watered down mess that does not force anyone to do anything and does not call for the total phase-out of fossil fuels.
The return on investment on the millions of dollars which were spent on organising this conference and flying in thousands of delegates from all over the world is practically negligible. Unless drastic, last-minute changes are made to the draft text, there is no binding commitment and there is no obligation to address the crisis by forcing governments to work together, in spite of the fact that over 100 countries want a phase-out.
As things stand this morning at the time of publication, the conference is expected to run overtime as many delegates have described the proposed text as insufficient.
Sultan Al Jaber, the oil baron who moonlit as the president of COP28, planned to use the summit to strike a few more oil deals on behalf of the company he runs, and even went as far as publicly disavowing the mountains of evidence which show that a total phase-out of fossil fuels is the only way we can rein in global heating below the 1.5 degree threshold, couldn’t pull off a more impressive performance as a cartoon villain if he tried.
I’ve spent the last two weeks analysing the COP28 presidency’s terse responses to questions from the independent press, a rare window of insight into their public relations efforts given that press freedom in the UAE is practically non-existent. To say that they did not take kindly to questioning would, in fact, be an understatement.
The linguistic framing of their press releases, particularly the way in which they repeatedly emphasise how ambitious and ‘different’ this summit was, is very telling. The COP28’s presidency’s approach can be summed up as an inverse carrot-and-the-stick scenario.
Rather than dangling the fossil fuel phase-out carrot towards the end of the summit and holding out hopes that an agreement might be reached (only to then torpedo it in private negotiating chambers), the UAE, likely conscious of the heavy level of scrutiny that was directed towards COP28 and the host country, chose instead to give us the loss and damage fund carrot on day one for a spot of instant gratification and optimistic relief, only to then make absolute mincemeat out of any efforts to end mankind’s dependence on fossil fuels throughout the rest of the conference.
This conference was, for all intents and purposes, a prime example of what happens when corruption on the largest scale imaginable is allowed to fester without an equivalent force to counter it. The fossil fuel industry is not only a dirty industry in that it is actively killing our planet. It is inherently dirty in the sense that, in order for it to exist, it must rely on subterfuge, infiltration, and enough grease to coat the palms of every significant lawmaker across the world.
Bear in mind that, within my relatively short lifetime alone (I’m 28), humanity has collectively done so little to address climate change by tackling it at the source that we went from just lying to ourselves about how we still have a couple of decades left to ‘we have no time left at all’ in a span of years that was even shorter than we hoped it would be.
The pace at which disastrous climate events are occurring outstrips even the worst predictions that scientists could make a couple of decades ago, and oil producing countries are still doing their damnedest to keep burning oil until the last drop.
Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s climate minister, summed up the situation perfectly:
“We cannot negotiate with nature. The climate cannot compromise. No well meaning words will change a single thing unless we act.”