XR UK on COP 28: ‘Our hopes were low – but COP went lower’
December 14, 2023 by Extinction Rebellion
We never had high hopes for COP 28. So we are sadly unsurprised at the wholly inadequate outcome of the conference now that it’s done. According to the delegates, and most notably the oil tycoon Sultan Al Jaber, the world will ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels in energy systems.
But who is doing what, when or how is completely unclear. And the much-trumpeted summit even left huge doubts about whether the polluting countries involved in weeks of blah, blah,blah actually have to do anything at all.
The questions this immediately raised are many:
- How are we going to ensure this transition?
The commitments made in COP 28 only refer to energy systems – production and consumption are no longer referenced.
- How will we ensure the transition will be fair?
Funding and commitments are not distributed according to responsibility and historical economic benefits from fossil fuels. Monetary contributions from the richest countries do not add up to what was asked by the developing countries who are on the front line of climate breakdown.
- What does ‘transitioning away’ mean, it is not the same as phasing out fossil fuels?
Today’s agreed final Global Stocktake agreement marked the first COP text that openly calls on countries to wean themselves off fossil fuels. But it is, as expected, vague, weak, and easy to get out of. The language used means there is no deadline and no tangible measurement for stopping the use of fossil fuels, leaving the agreement open to interpretation. There is a lot of focus on technologies, such as carbon capture, and financial sleight-of-hand, such as carbon credits, which allow continued burning of fossil fuels while displacing people off their land to make room for so-called carbon sinks.
Leo Hickman, of Carbon Brief, highlights just how far the language used in the COP statement falls short of truly demanding that countries move urgently away from fossil fuel use. “The words “calls on…” are crucial here. In UNFCCC legal jargon, this is known to mean an “invitation” or “request” — the weakest of all the various terms used,” he says.
- What is the incentive when none of this is in any way going to be enforced, legally or otherwise?
None of these questions can be answered based on what has come out of COP 28, which is deeply, deeply concerning.
Extinction Rebellion UK activist James Harvey, a 48 year old project manager from Norwich, says: “The only winners from COP28 are the oil and gas companies, the thousands of fossil fuel lobbyists that attended1, and the oil company boss that chaired it; Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. Weak wording around transitioning away from fossil fuels is a death sentence for island nations, and the pittance contributed to the loss and damage fund is insulting.
“Scientists are saying that staying below the 1.5C temperature increase laid down in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords is now impossible. It means extreme weather, floods, wildfires and harvest failures are only going to get worse. When are governments going to get real and protect people? They are trying to silence the truth in favour of dirty oil money. Enough is enough, people know what’s happening and are rising up.“
Notably, the amount of money pledged to a loss and damage fund to help countries least responsible for climate breakdown and yet most severely impacted falls far short of what is needed. The estimated losses for developing countries caused by the Climate and Ecological Emergency are around $400bn each year. Yet countries bearing the most responsibility for the crisis like the US only pledged $17.5m which is criminal when you consider that US oil production reached an all-time high in October, is the biggest historical polluter, and is the largest global producer of gas and oil this year.
The UK pledged $75m, which, considering its role in the destruction of the natural world, its cumulative contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, and its current expansion of fossil fuel production, is again completely unacceptable. It is also not a new pledge, nor in addition to what was pledged before: it was “taken from an existing and recently downgraded climate finance pledge.”
Critically, there is no firm obligation for developed countries to pay into this new loss and damage fund and formal climate finance commitments have not even been met. The pledge made by developed countries in 2009 to provide $100bn a year to developing nations by 2020 to cover adaptation and mitigation needs was never met. So, we have no confidence that this time things will be any different.
What is clear is:
- Commitment to genuinely phasing out fossil fuels is non-existent.
- There is no indication that the “transition away” will be either fair or funded.
- Commitment to genuinely support countries on the frontline of climate breakdown is non-existent.
- We have seen no indication whatsoever that there is any intention of taking real, urgent action; there is no timeline for implementation, only a reference to the dangerously inadequate 2050 end-goal.
- We have seen no indication that there is any concern for ordinary people who are going to bear the brunt of the crisis in terms of food and water shortages, increased conflict, increased forced migration, unbearable heat, lethal flooding and other extreme weather.
- No workable plan will ever come out of a process as inadequate and rigged as COP.
“The so-called ‘deal’ at COP28 is nothing but greenwash and a triumph for the vested interests1 who have lobbied so hard to weaken both the process and the outcome. Saudi Arabia is saying that this new deal will not affect their exports and OPEC has said it’s a “positive outcome” from their perspective. This really says it all.
Rosie Merrifield from XR UK’s Political Circle says, “Governments have gaslit us for so long that the acknowledgement that fossil fuels are the problem, finally after 28 years, feels like a victory – it is a fatal mistake to accept this and frame it as such. It serves only to validate a toxic, fraudulent system. Finally acknowledging (only in words) one basic aspect of what scientists have been saying for decades, while totally disregarding the scale and urgency of transformation that the science tells us is required is no victory at all. The world must confront the reality that a failing process like COP – captured by fossil fuel interests and state PR machines – is incapable of ever delivering a plan that would meet the scale of the challenge and preserve a liveable future.”
It is clear that the COP process in its current form was always going to fail. We need a process where we can have true representation and where the people most affected – and most willing for action – have a seat at the negotiating table.
“COP28 has shown a total disregard for physics and for the lives of millions of people who will be affected by climate breakdown, not just in the near term, but for decades to come. It should now be clear to all: fossil fuel organisations are a mortal threat to us all and we have to find ways of preventing them from further delaying meaningful action,” says Etienne Stott, 44, Olympic gold medalist and environmental campaigner.
In the UK that means that Extinction Rebellion will step up our focus on taking the power to drive an urgent and just transition out of the hands of fossil fuel-captured political system and putting it into the hands of us, the people.
In 2024, we will be doubling down on supporting local groups to set up and run Community Assemblies to tackle the key climate crisis-related issues in their area. And we will be going all-out to hugely raise public awareness of, and support for, a UK-wide Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice.
For a comprehensive breakdown of all the failings of COP 28, have a read of Friends of the Earth International’s press release and Carbon Brief’s COP28: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Dubai
For an overview on the decisions made, read Al Jazeera’s Four Key Highlights of COP 28.
Also read Kevin Anderson’s quick response to COP.
Quotes / Responses (Developing Countries):
- Marshall Islands: “The decision on the Global Stocktake is full of loopholes, yet we have no choice but to go on the water with it”
- Samoa (on behalf of Alliance of Small Island States): “This process has failed us” (Global Stocktake decision was gavelled through when they were not in the room.)
“We have made an incremental advancement over business as usual when what we really needed is an exponential step change in our actions and support…”
Also said, that the text contains a “litany of loopholes”
Prof Johan Rockström (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany): “No, the COP 28 agreement will not enable the world to hold the 1.5C limit…”
Kevin Anderson (Professor of energy & climate change, Tyndall Centre):
“The final text from COP 28 is a death knell for the stronger 1.5°C commitment of the Paris Agreement and even puts the much weaker 2°C obligation on critical life-support”
Prof Mike Berners-Lee (Lancaster University)
“Cop28 is the fossil fuel industry’s dream outcome, because it looks like progress, but it isn’t.”
Fredereke Otto (Imperial College):
“The lukewarm agreement reached at Cop28 will cost every country, no matter how rich, no matter how poor. Everyone loses. It’s hailed as a compromise, but we need to be very clear what has been compromised. The short-term financial interests of a few have again won over the health, lives and livelihoods of most people living on this planet…
…With every vague verb, every empty promise in the final text, millions more people will enter the frontline of climate change and many will die.”
Prof Martin Siegert (University of Exeter):
“The science is perfectly clear. Cop28, by not making a clear declaration to STOP fossil fuel burning is a tragedy for the planet and our future. The world is heating faster and more powerfully than the COP response to deal with it.”
Dr Mike O’Sullivan (University of Exeter, Global Carbon Budget)
“Cop is meant to be the vehicle for solutions, but all it seems to do is recognise problems that the rest of the world identified years ago. It’s obvious to most people that limiting global warming meant reduced fossil fuel use, but only now do our leaders say this.”
Prof Gulcin Ozkan, King’s College London, UK:
“The final declaration falls short on many levels. First, it is vague with no timeframe, hence the process can potentially take a very long time. Second, there is no clear commitment regarding financial support to the less developed countries in their transition. Finally, and surprisingly, there is no mention of a net zero target for methane emissions.”
Rupert Read, Climate Majority Project:
“Let us put the matter bluntly and clearly. This just is not the breakthrough that some are unadvisedly and rather desperately trying to convince themselves (and the less well-informed) that it is. It is a loophole- ridden, merely rhetorical advance, without teeth.
CoP in anything like its present form has, inevitably, categorically failed us and is never going to effectively deal with this more-than-emergency.
The most powerful, transformative thing that CoP delegates could do as they leave Dubai and trail home is to admit – to proclaim – exactly this.
They need to do so, to counter the impression that the CoP PR machine is giving: that this is summit has somehow been a success that has put the world on the path to salvation. On the contrary. This is yet another power-less sticking plaster. A mere rhetorical flourish.
The CoP system is moribund. It needs to end.”