Bye, Bye Dubai
The Real Failures of the COP28 Climate Pantomime
As the COP28 Climate Summit winds painfully to its end, it is time for some stock-taking. Recriminations abound, fingers are being pointed at fossil fuel lobbyists, the top media shock-jocks are livid about how certain governments did not follow their prepared script… How many more 12-year-olds do we seriously need to fly to these events to get these stupid people to listen? COP28 president, Sultan Al Jaber, rushed through the final document so everyone could just go home.
But what was the point of COP28? Even activist groups and NGOs like Greenpeace or Just Stop Oil have recognized the futility of the circus. Greta stayed away.
For two weeks the media pump out emotional stories and demands from groups and individuals with no power, with simplistic solutions and with no understanding of how economies function.
For two weeks, leaders pretend to lead, the industry pretends to engage and everyone pretends that the solution is as simple as 1.5°C.
For two weeks, climate anxiety builds as fast as hatred of industry and humans.
Don’t even get me started on the money and the honey-pot scramble as everyone claims to be a “front-line climate victim”.
So after two weeks of spectacle and empty pledges, after two weeks of emotional speeches about “global boiling”, after two weeks of shaming of those not as virtuous as the heroic climate campaigners, … nothing will change, the media will pull up their tents, people will go home and go back to their Christmas shopping and leaders will return to the challenges of governing. The only thing the COP climate process will achieve is resentment and more Gen Z climate anxiety – but perhaps that is all the UNFCCC, in its limited capacity, was aiming for.
I did, admittedly, enjoy the farcical #Melodi affair and the endless memes of Prime Ministers Meloni and Modi getting it on in Dubai.
The “Phase” Phrase
The key challenge at COP28 was whether the global delegations would agree on adding the phrase “phase out of fossil fuels”. They didn’t, but they tried to wordsmith the vague term “transition” so John Kerry could beam an approving smile.
Perhaps they should have taken some time to consider the phrase: “fossil fuels”. In emission terms, there is a big difference between burning coal as a fossil fuel and burning natural gas. Activist zealots see both as equally evil and insisted that both coal and natural gas must go, raising their expectations beyond what was realistic. Natural gas comes from oil companies and, as that industry must be eliminated, so too must natural gas. Sadly these activists have no respect for reality.
Many poor African farmers dream of phasing out burning wood and having access to natural gas. Many European leaders are signing 20-year contracts with non-Russian providers of natural gas. Many ecologists see natural gas as the best baseload supply for the shift to renewables. But the activists will not be happy until all fossil fuels are phased out (including natural gas). So COP28 was destined, at the outset, to disappoint.
Whiners though will whine and point their fingers at the fossil fuel industry, at the Emirati leadership of the event, at the private jets, at the failure of Western governments to take responsibility for “burning the planet”... The hate industry will, as intended, have their moment for accusations, vilifications and provocations.
And then … nothing.
The Climate Pantomime
This year celebrates COP28. That means this is the 28th year of annual climate conferences that have achieved, quite literally, nothing. It is merely a circus event. The UN, under the Guterres administration, has further demonstrated its futility and powerlessness (to rival that of the League of Nations). They can only march children up to the podium, blame others and support activists so much until people realize their impotence. Activists are staying away, world leaders are thinning out, media is moving this news story to the weather slot... Soon John Kerry won’t show up and Al Gore will stop tweeting. And then what?
The most ridiculous moment of COP28 has to be when the COP president, Sultan Al Jaber, attended a panel with the so-called Elders Group headed by former Irish president, Mary Robinson. The media had already roasted the Emirati leader as the head of the main UAE oil company, ADNOC, looking to use the event to drum up oil business while failing to note he was also the head of the main UAE renewables company, Masdar. The media focused on his claim during the panel that there is no science supporting that the phase out of fossil fuels would keep global warming below 1.5°C. The Sultan was correct… the 1.5°C goal is lost … but that is a mute point. If anyone had bothered to watch the event (the media did not, or chose not to report on it), Al Jaber had challenged Robinson to stop “pointing fingers and contributing to the polarization” and rather “show me solutions” and a roadmap. She could not and could only offer her sense of superior virtue as her contribution to the climate pantomime.
And this highlights the main problem of the COP climate process.
Maybe the UN should consider a different path and show solutions. Rather than two weeks of cynicism, emotional rage and finger pointing, they should spend two weeks inviting entrepreneurs and innovators to rise to the challenge. Give the business community the chance to lead on climate solutions, to solve problems and invest in alternatives. Stop the two weeks of badgering consumers on what they can no longer buy, eat, drive or wear and spend it celebrating the potential of human ingenuity. Stop the two weeks of throwing climate redress financial pledges into dark holes of corrupt governments and spend it awarding promising technologies that will unburden those struggling with the climate effects. Stop the two weeks of nonsense and try to make a difference.
But who am I kidding? This is the United Nations. They are incapable of doing that. But they offer a great pantomime.
Pass the popcorn for COP29!