A hodgepodge of activism and legalistic negotiations characterized the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP28), which concluded Wednesday, December 13, 2023. The resulting agreement, dubbed the “UAE Consensus,” includes the first-ever UN statement in the 27-year history of climate summits to call for the “transition away” from fossil fuels. In fact, it marks the first climate agreement to specifically refer to “fossil fuels” as the culprit behind climate change. Nevertheless, since the language in the final agreement calls for the “phase down” rather than the “phase out” of fossil fuels, the more zealous contingents in attendance typically remained less than satisfied.
In ambiguous bureaucratese based on the speculative and largely unfalsifiable (unscientific) claims of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the agreement assesses the progress made on mitigation efforts to date. It then calls for additional measures deemed necessary (and sufficient) for capping the global temperature increase at 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial levels, or 2 degrees C at most.
The UAE Consensus has been hailed by some delegates, including U.S. “climate czar” John Kerry, as a historic landmark in climate change mitigation efforts, aiming as it does to reach “net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.” Still others, including Anne Rasmussen, the lead negotiator for Samoa, suggested that the agreement was a failure, especially for island nations. Such ocean-bound land masses will supposedly disappear under water in the perpetually not-so-distant future.
While the 200 member states are not legally bound to execute anything treated in the agreement, delegates and climatologists have suggested that it will force the hands of nations, oil companies, industrial producers, and investors to divest from fossil fuels, accelerating a sea change toward renewable energy and climate change mitigation. Likewise, the terms, when pursued, will have a devastating impact on the world economy.
The climate summit was partially overshadowed by the war in the Middle East, as several world leaders used their speeches to address the crisis in Gaza and met behind the scenes to discuss the unfolding catastrophe. While the war was not an official topic, it did impact the convention directly. Israeli President Isaac Herzog spent one morning meeting with fellow leaders, telling them about “how Hamas blatantly violates the ceasefire agreements,” after which he skipped his scheduled speech.
Meanwhile, the Iranian delegation walked out of the meeting entirely, pointing to the “political, biased and irrelevant presence of the fake Zionist regime.” In a speech during a panel entitled “Acting on military spending and military emissions,” Deborah Burton, founder of the social justice cooperative Tipping Point North South, argued that the “emissions story is wrapped up inside another story, and that is runaway military spending.” Meanwhile, activists outside the convention hall linked the climate crisis to calls for a ceasefire.
As I pointed out in my previous installment on COP28, the climate summit was chaired by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, the UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change, and the chief executive officer of Adnoc, the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. Doubts preceded and continued throughout the talks as to whether Al Jaber, an oil man tied to fossil fuel development, would deliver the desired results. In the end, most agreed that the goals were attained, although the results exist only on paper and in the minds of participants. It is up to the parties to the agreement to force the terms down our throats against our wills.
But what else could have been the outcome of such a welter of ridiculous and deleterious ideas and aspirations? Everything evil under the sun is deemed causally connected to climate change, including war and genocide, terrorism, poverty, inequality, inclusion, the condition of women, and population growth.
“Climate change” functions as a catch-all phrase for sequestering the world’s problems under a single, global crisis rubric. As such, it is believed, a global governance system must be put in place to address it. And the means used are always the ends attained.