So, that’s all folks. Another year, another UN Conference of the Parties (COP) on the climate crisis.
What has COP28 had to offer? Early buzz of an international loss and damages fund segued into the usual backroom fossil fuel deals, denial speeches, and obfuscation. Before the conference had even kicked off, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber set the tone by claiming there’s no evidence that fossil fuels cause climate change.
A cynic might suggest Al Jaber’s day job running Adnoc – the host nation, United Arab Emirates’ state oil company – has coloured his opinion on the matter.
The top down
For his part, our own Prime Minister Rishi Sunak embarrassed himself and the nation by broadcasting his rowing back of vital measures to reduce emissions while bragging the UK is still better than anyone else. We would, he decreed, nevertheless achieve the target of net zero by 2050, science and logic be damned.
The collective face palm at such Sunakian magical thinking was audible from my kitchen 4,000 miles away. It almost drowned out the clamour of climate scientists and GCSE chemistry students screaming, “You’re going the wrong way… we’re all going to die!”
OPEC made a late bid for the absurdity trophy when it used an international conference on climate change to harangue the island nations their members’ output may one day put under the ocean.
It should have been a red flag that the host was a major global oil player. Likewise, the 2,400 delegates from the fossil fuel industry and the expanding meat and dairy contingent. Yet on we ploughed with enduring optimism that this year’s jet-fuelled sortie would deliver the breakthrough.
And then… nothing.
The ongoing last-minute drama has been all too predictable. It seems likely no one will even be asked nicely to leave their lethal fossil fuels in the ground.
In all, it was hardly worth the carbon. It would be the makings of a top-drawer farce if it weren’t so existentially terrifying.
Did we genuinely think it would be any different? Have our so-called leaders ever shown sign of taking the ‘tough decisions’ they love to otherwise promise when it comes to the environment?
The ground up
Lately, I’ve been wondering if we need to stop waiting for the people we employ to do the difficult stuff to actually do the difficult stuff. Maybe it’ll be down to us, in the end, to show our leaders the path.
It’s already happening. Organisations like the Climate Majority project are harnessing our generalised eco-anxiety into consensus and action. There’s a growing realisation that grass roots projects will make the world of difference.
One such enterprise is on a mission to provide a blueprint for communities to build their own local renewable energy stations, supplanting volatile global energy markets and wealthy shareholders.
Local government could yet hold the key, if only it knew how to use it. A recent study by Climate Emergency UK (CEUK) scored councils across the four nations an average of just 32% against a range of climate action measures. These included having an action plan with quantifiable targets and partnerships with business, citizens, and public services to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions.
For authorities that want to improve, CEUK offers a partnership approach to facilitate action. For residents of areas that don’t prioritise the environment, the scoreboards offer the tools to challenge their local representatives. Those who claim that small change is not enough, or that the UK’s apparently modest contribution to global emissions of 1% absolves us of responsibility, miss the point. We need a blueprint to see what’s possible.
Someone must go first. If not us, with our resources, ingenuity, and expertise, then who? The issue is one of imagination, vision—and, dare I say, leadership.