“Something special is really happening here. The positivity, optimism, the hope, the momentum and the determination is just growing. I will stay focused, laser focused on delivery and maintaining this momentum…”
Sultan Al-Jaber, Cop28 President, December 4, 2023
This year’s United Nations climate summit, Cop28, ended on 12-13 December, one day later than originally planned, with a decision that much of the mainstream media, as well as its key protagonists, hailed as “historic”, when in reality it was more of the same. The ‘hope’, the ‘momentum’, the ‘optimism’ have finally resulted in a decision that speaks generally about the need to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels, rather than committing to the rapid phase-out that is necessary to prevent the problem from getting worse.
The decision came after perhaps the most episodic climate summit in recent years. After marathon consultations between the poorest, most vulnerable countries to climate change and the fossil fuel multinational lobby, which initially tried to block even a reference to fossil fuels in the text of the decision, this ‘compromise’ was reached, which in reality is light years away from what is needed.
The main argument of those celebrating is that there has never been a climate summit decision that makes any reference to the impact of fossil fuels use and the need to at least reduce it. Sultan Al-Jaber solemnly announced that for the first time ‘ we have language on fossil fuels in our final agreement for the first time ever ‘. This in itself is outrageous. The link between fossil fuels and climate change is by now accepted by almost the entire scientific community. In fact, world leaders are celebrating because they have managed to mention this simple, widely accepted truth! In any case though, the reference does nothing to solve the problem, because fossil fuels are not only still dominant, but their extraction and use is expanding.
The reference to fossil fuels does not mean that measures will actually be taken to reduce, let alone eliminate them, which is a prerequisite for limiting the catastrophic rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (compared to pre-industrial levels). This is the goal that the 2015 Paris summit (Cop21) had set for the coming years. However, apart from setting occasional targets, these summits have never managed to make binding decisions, with the result being that these targets have always remained ‘elusive’. COP28 is no exception, but yet another fiasco.
Parade of fossil fuel executives
The signs that COP28 would be an unprecedented farce appeared even before the meeting began. On November 28, BBC reported that the UAE, the host country of the summit, ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company – the country’s state oil company) and Sultan Al Jaber, who is not only the chairman of the summit but also the head of ADNOC, were trying to use the process to conclude major deals on extracting and transporting fossil fuels with several other participating countries, including Brazil, China, etc!
A few days after the start of the summit, recent statements by Al-Jaber were leaked, in which he claims that there is no scientific evidence that a reduction in the use of fossil fuels is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius! He also claims that their eventual total elimination would take the world ‘back into caves’.
It was a summit packed with representatives of energy and mining companies and the world’s biggest oil-producing countries (such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates itself and other countries that play a major role in OPEC). According to UK Green Party spokesperson Caroline Lucas, the fossil fuel industry was omnipresent at the summit with 2,500 delegates.
Attempting to respond to the accusations against him and to the voices raising concerns about the provocative character of this year’s COP, Al-Jaber did not stop repeating that his positions were “crystal clear” and “unambiguous” and that they were fully in line with science. Another of the supposedly big steps he celebrated was the ‘huge’, ‘historic’ success of the agreement on the first day of the summit on major donations to the ‘Loss and Damage Fund’, a fund to help poorer countries recover from the effects of climate change.
More than $700 million was pledged by a number of countries and foundations. In reality, this is about 0.2% of the amount needed to actually address the damage and losses caused by climate change in developing countries, estimated at $400 billion per year. Moreover, these are voluntary contributions, not commitments or obligations by rich countries. Even if they are given (in most cases these amounts are declared but not given – at least not in full), they will only be used to mitigate some minimal effects of the problem. As for the problem itself, it will continue to grow.
The reversal of reality, the provocations, the hypocrisy of the climate conferences reached its peak at COP28. There is absolutely no decision to force the fossil fuel industry to stop extracting and selling oil, gas, coal, etc. At the same time, they will continue to present destructive projects such as giant wind farms in seas and mountains as a green alternative. There is now enough experience from the UN climate meetings. We have nothing essential to expect from them. The only force that can stop the climate crisis is the movements and societies, workers, youth, indigenous peoples, the populations of the poorest and most vulnerable countries on the planet, if they organise and demand an end to the catastrophe by overthrowing the system that creates it.
Cop28: wishful thinking for a more ‘sustainable’ food production system
The mainstream media and COP28 participants were quick to hail as a major breakthrough the joint declaration signed by 134 countries on the second day of the summit, agreeing on the need for a more sustainable model of food production as part of the fight against climate change. As is usual with climate summit declarations, this ‘resolution’ contains no specific commitments, but the general recognition that the current model of agricultural and livestock production is a key factor in exacerbating the climate crisis, and the equally general promise to fund ‘research’ and ‘innovation’, to develop cooperative relationships with small farmers and indigenous communities, and other palatable fairy tales.
The fact of the matter is that the destructive practices of the food industry are not destructive because of a lack of ‘research’ and ‘innovation’. They are destructive because the food multinationals are destroying vast tracts of forest – mainly in Asia and South America – and replacing them with huge livestock farms and crops, mainly for animal feed. They are levelling rare ecosystems, depriving the planet of forested areas that could largely mitigate the effects of climate change (by absorbing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere), and emitting large amounts of pollutants from food production facilities and the process of transporting their products.
All these, of course, are not earth-shattering news. The food industry’s contribution to environmental degradation and, in particular, to the acceleration of the climate crisis, as well as its impact on local rural and indigenous communities, has been known for decades. It has been the subject of constant protest by environmental movements and organisations. Governments and large corporations conspicuously ignore these protests.
If the current state of the planet is alarming, the future could be nightmarish. As Argentine biologist Sandra Diaz explains in a Guardian feature, the main factor in the decline of the planet’s biodiversity over the past 50 years has been changes in land use. According to the University of Maryland, the world has lost 720 million hectares of forest in the last 21 years. Countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bolivia, Malaysia, etc. are leading this destructive course. In other words, it is where the agribusiness and livestock industries (and other multinationals) are attacking the world’s rainforests that we are seeing the greatest losses.
The celebration of the COP28 declaration on supposedly sustainable food production has nothing to do with real progress.
“Health Day”: another hypocritical celebration for COP28
Another “success” celebrated by the media and the summit organisers was the “COP28 Health Day”, supposedly to discuss the issue of financial support to deal with the effects of climate change on the human body and the health systems of the countries of the world. At a summit where irony was one of the key features on many levels, the “Health Day” was overshadowed by the thick smog that blanketed the skies over Dubai. It was just a small reminder of the effects of the relentless use of fossil fuels.
The impact of the climate crisis on human health does not only include air pollution, but also the inability of the health systems of the poorest countries to respond to emergencies such as the outbreak of new epidemics, as illustrated by a number of African countries. It is estimated that Africa will lose 5-10% of its GDP each year due to the effects of climate change. At the same time, the public health systems of its impoverished countries are at breaking point, and of course the supposed support from richer countries and major financial institutions is miles away from the real needs. Recently, a cholera epidemic swept through eighteen African countries, killing at least 4,000 people. Between January and November, 158 new epidemics broke out on the continent.
Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has included food insecurity among the health problems linked to the climate crisis. According to a statement, 40% of the world’s population is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In 2021, 3.1 billion people, or 42% of the world’s population, lacked access to a healthy diet.
Once again, apart from some voluntary contributions, there has been no binding decision to provide stable funding for the world’s poorest countries, who continue to pay for the greed of multinational corporations with countless human lives and extreme environmental degradation.