COP28 conference brings progress, frustrations

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last Tuesday marked the conclusion of the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP), which brought the nations of the world together to discuss our worsening, human-caused warming crisis.

COP28 could hardly be called a great success for the planet – especially compared with the agreements that came out of COP 3 in Kyoto and COP21 in Paris – but it featured some key steps forward. And it gave organizers from around the world, including Minnesota, the chance to connect, to learn, and to make the case for climate justice on a planetary scale.

The bad

COP28 raised eyebrows even before the conference began for its setting in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Dubai’s famous skyscrapers and tourist attractions have largely been built by exploited migrant workers and funded by the UAE’s massive oil and gas revenue. The UAE is one of the world’s highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases.

The President of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, is the CEO of the UAE’s state-owned oil company. Al Jaber’s conflict of interest was on display last month when he said that there is no science behind phasing out fossil fuels as part of climate action. His nation has since been accused of using the COP28 as an opportunity to forge new fossil fuel development deals with world leaders.

That’s not to say that the UAE was the only source of greenwashing or delaying tactics at COP28. Fossil fuel lobbyists attended the conference in unprecedented droves – 2,456 of them, to be exact. While the fossil fuel industry claims that they’re committed to climate action and the Paris agreement’s goals, Congressional investigations have shown that they’re far more committed to greenwashing, obfuscating, and denying their way out of real change.

The good

Climate science is clear, as it has been for decades: the only way to prevent catastrophic warming is to phase out fossil fuels. Fortunately, the parties at COP28 have finally agreed on a call to all countries to commit to this phaseout. While this agreement isn’t binding – and isn’t as strong as many smaller, vulnerable countries wanted – it’s an important recognition that the world economy as it exists today won’t be able to protect our future. Investments in clean energy, coupled with divestments from oil, gas, and coal, are our only way forward.

COP28 also brought new funding commitments for the energy transition. This includes money for clean energy, methane reductions, and dealing with natural disasters. The funding is especially targeted at developing countries, which tend to be hotter and far less equipped to deal with climate crises than wealthy, polluting nations in the Global North.

One notable figure absent from the conference was Pope Francis, who had planned to attend before coming down with a lung inflammation. In a message delivered by a Cardinal who attended in his place, the world’s most influential religious leader highlighted the climate crisis’s impact on the poor, condemned environmental destruction, and demanded that the world’s wealthy countries take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The Minnesota angle

MEP member organizations, including Climate GenerationCOPAL, and Lutheran Advocacy – MN attended COP28 to meet delegates from other nations and share Minnesota’s perspective on climate action and an environmentally just future.

2023 has given them many good stories to share. Minnesota had a banner year for climate action at the Legislature, scoring victories on clean transportation, renewable energy, building efficiency, and much more. Our electrical power sector continues to get greener and greener as new solar panels and wind turbines are built to replace retiring coal plants.

At the same time, we’ve experienced our hottest year on record, and a December that feels more like October. The Twin Cities is unlikely to have a white Christmas. These patterns are part El Niño and part signal of the new normal – a normal that will worsen unless we take drastic action.

Both our success and our challenges are key to Minnesota’s climate story – a story that’s worth sharing around the nation and the world at events like COP28. We’ve set high, achievable goals for a clean electrical grid. We’ve begun developing ways to clean up our agriculture and transportation sectors. What we do in Minnesota will help pioneer climate solutions that can work far beyond our borders.

We owe it to ourselves, to our future generations, and to the most vulnerable peoples around the world to rise to this challenge.

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