When the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company was named president of this year’s UN climate conference (known as COP 28), many saw it as the encapsulation of all the flaws in our global institutions for tackling climate change. The annual COPs were already facing increasing scrutiny and skepticism. Is it worth tens of thousands of people flying from all over the world to attend? With emissions still increasing, what do these meetings actually achieve?
As the head of Canada's largest climate action network, I constantly hear — and have to ask myself — these questions.
I became a climate activist in 2018 — the year scientists came out with a shattering report warning of the consequences of global temperature rise above 1.5 C. I was 26 years old, and as a figure skater who grew up spending the winters practising at the outdoor rink at the park near my home in Sherbrooke, I was witnessing how winters were shortening. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report spelled out how the next 12 years would be critical for bending the global emissions curve, and was a game changer.
Fast forward to 2023, and climate impacts are hitting us harder and more often, with devastating wildfires raging across Canada this summer and filling our skies with smoke.
Right now at COP28, for the first time since the world agreed in Paris to work towards limiting warming to 1.5 C, countries are converging in Dubai to take stock of the progress.
It’s hard not to give in to cynicism when recent documents show the COP28 presidency used its position to push for liquified natural gas deals. It’s difficult to stay hopeful as the federal government has so far postponed critical policy to tackle the rising emissions of oil and gas companies. And I struggle to keep faith that countries will work together to safeguard our future and protect the most vulnerable when thousands of civilians are being killed in Gaza.
But a question that is not asked enough is: Who would benefit from civil society not showing up to COP28?
New research shows fossil fuel groups have sent more than 7,200 delegates to UN climate talks over the past 20 years. More than 600 fossil lobbyists registered for COP27 in Egypt, and during the next few weeks, it’s expected to be worse. The industry’s political spokespeople will also be in attendance.Premier Danielle Smith arrived on the weekend to present “Alberta's fossil fuel-friendly plan” and further obscuring the fundamental purpose of these meetings — to work together toward climate safety.
That question — why I’m here with colleagues and allies — has been front of mind since I landed. Civil society is capable of exerting power to balance corporate interests and protect the global co-operation process — as imperfect as it is.
Over the years, I’ve witnessed many of these powerful contributions: Indigenous leaders showing they’re already leading the way on the energy transition as Canada’s largest owners of renewable energy. Unions helping the federal government understand its phaseout of coal-powered electricity was missing a key component: a plan for workers and communities.
Our movement will push for a just transition away from oil, gas and coal in the conference’s formal decision, writes @carobrouillette #COP28 #EndFossilFuels #EmissionsCap
Last year, the international climate movement helped make the imprisonment of Egyptian democracy activist Alaa El-Fatah an international news story. Global South countries negotiated as a bloc last year to create a fund for losses and damages arising from climate impacts. This year, our movement will seek to achieve something that has never been done before and send a political signal that is essential to keep 1.5 C alive: naming the need for a just transition away from oil, gas and coal in the conference’s formal decision.
COPs capture the complexity of our world — and its destructive dysfunctions. With horrifying violence in the region, at a moment of crisis convergence, this conference will not come without its warts and flashy distractions. But it also brings record and growing momentum towards consensus for a fair and funded phaseout of all fossil fuels — which, despite industry and some countries’ pushback, we have a real chance of achieving at COP28.
With seven years before the crucial 2030 milestone, the risk of ceding space to high-polluting industries has never been greater. But the greatest risk would be giving up on global co-operation. That’s why I am in Dubai for the next two weeks, standing alongside allies from around the world: to fight for the possibility of a safer, saner world.
Caroline Brouillette is the executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, Canada’s farthest-reaching network of organizations working on climate and energy issues, bringing together over 150 organizations operating from coast to coast to coast.