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Want COP28 to be successful? Listen to science and vulnerable communities, campaigners say

A man looks at a swollen River Beas following heavy rains in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India.
A man looks at a swollen River Beas following heavy rains in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India. Copyright AP Photo/ Aqil Khan
Copyright AP Photo/ Aqil Khan
By Rosie Frost
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Loss and Damage, equitable representation, justice and concrete action are top of the agenda for many attending COP28.

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Alongside hundreds of world leaders, the Pope and King Charles III, thousands of activists, campaigners, community leaders, non-profits and NGOs are heading to COP28 this week.

With promises of the “most inclusive UN Climate Change Conference to date” they are hoping to make their voices heard on the biggest challenges the world faces.

For many, climate justice, equitable representation and funding for vulnerable communities will be measures of success in Dubai. But, as controversy over fossil fuel influence rises, what does a successful COP28 look like and is it still achievable?

COP28 should heed the calls of Indigenous people

The expectations of Indigenous peoples’ are clear, according to Joseph Itongwa, regional coordinator for the Indigenous Peoples and Local Network for the Management of Forest Ecosystems of Central Africa (REPALEAC).

“Prioritise our rights, safeguard traditional territories and align climate funds with Glasgow Pledge commitments.”

This pledge, agreed at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, saw countries reaffirm the duty of developed nations to provide developing nations with climate funding. Direct access to these funds, in line with the commitments of this Glasgow Pledge, must be put into practice this year, Itongwa says.

“As a DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) Indigenous leader, envisioning a sustainable future, I urge COP28 to heed the calls of Indigenous people.”

To combat climate change effectively, elevate traditional indigenous knowledge, secure territories, and support us as the guardians.
Joseph Itongwa
Regional coordinator for REPALEAC

Itongwa highlights the specific role of Indigenous women in biodiversity conservation - such as the women already working in the Congo Basin to maintain the forest and biodiversity. Direct funding is needed for these women in Central Africa to help strengthen their local initiatives.

Ensuring voices from a wide variety of Indigenous communities are included in the negotiations and decisions is vitally important to maintaining the health of the planet, according to Itongwa.

“To combat climate change effectively, elevate traditional indigenous knowledge, secure territories, and support us as the guardians,” he says.

Voices of science and youth

Emma Heiling is the founder and CEO of ClimaTalk, a youth-led non-profit that demystifies climate policy and empowers young people in the fight against climate change. The international organisation is heading to Dubai with the aim of making COP28 as accessible and understandable for young people as possible, encouraging them to get involved with international climate policy.

“For us, COP28 would be a success if not the strength of lobbies, the power of money, and the short-sightedness of politics, but rather the voices of science, youth and those from the most affected areas were to determine the outcome,” Heiling says.

She emphasises the need for intergenerational justice, climate justice and for the countries most responsible for the climate crisis to spearhead systemic change at the UN climate conference.

“This includes operationalising the Loss and Damage fund, a commitment to submitting new NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) that align with the Paris Agreement goals, significant steps towards transforming food and energy systems, a clear commitment to phasing out all fossil fuels,” Heiling adds, “and active inclusion of youth perspectives throughout the decision-making process.”

‘Justice and compassion’

With the growing need for increased representation for countries in the Global South and vulnerable communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis, a group of 10 young people from the Caribbean will be in Dubai to provide a voice for their communities at COP28.

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Some of them are the only representatives from their islands at the UN climate conference.

For Riddhi Samtani, a member of the Caribbean Climate Justice Leaders Academy from Sint Maarten, ensuring the Loss and Damage fund is operational is a pressing requirement in Dubai.

“Notably, non-sovereign countries and territories, like my home country, currently lack access to this fund, making it vital to address the criteria and mechanisms for fund allocation,” Samtani says.

A hand reads "pay" calling for reparations for loss and damage at the COP27 UN Climate Summit last year.
A hand reads "pay" calling for reparations for loss and damage at the COP27 UN Climate Summit last year.AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File

Earlier this month, a blueprint for implementing the Loss and Damage fund was finally agreed at pre-COP talks in Abu Dhabi. It is due to be formally adopted at COP28 and has been billed as a major breakthrough for those who have waited years for this financing.

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But its success still hangs in the balance as countries in the Global North and Global South iron out the details.

“Ultimately, the success of COP28 would not only be measured by agreements on paper but by tangible actions and results that lead us toward a more sustainable, equitable, and climate-resilient future,” Samtani concludes.

Kerese Elliot from Saint Kitts & Nevis adds that a successful conference would be one that ensures “those in attendance walk the walk once they return home as the true fight is after COP28”.

That includes world leaders strictly implementing policies that not only benefit their country but also the global climate mission as well as realistic goals set by NGOs to combat climate change.

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This success is not confined to policy tweaks but signifies a paradigm shift, envisioning a world where justice and compassion governs our actions.
Yemi Knight
Member of the Caribbean Climate Justice Leaders Academy from Barbados

“This success is not confined to policy tweaks but signifies a paradigm shift, envisioning a world where justice and compassion governs our actions,” Yemi Knight, a member of the Caribbean Climate Justice Leaders Academy from Barbados adds.

Can COP28 be successful?

There’s some scepticism around whether COP28 can even be successful in its current format too.

Sage Lenier is a young American activist and climate educator who is heading to Dubai to try and bring people behind the scenes of the COP process.

“To be candid, I don’t think this is going to be a very successful COP,” she says. “It’s so taken over by the fossil fuel industry.”

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Lenier believes that to make the process work, the fossil fuel industry needs to be excluded entirely and the pledges, deals and agreements countries make need to be binding.

Climate campaigners have long criticised the “polluting influence” of the fossil fuel industry in the COP process, condemning the choice of UAE national oil company boss Sultan Al-Jaber to steer the talks as “beyond satire”

The COP28 Presidency has argued that an integrated approach which includes fossil fuel firms is needed.

Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of ADNOC and COP28 President during the World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in February.
Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of ADNOC and COP28 President during the World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in February.AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File

But the concerns of campaigners and climate groups may well be proven true as days before talks are set to begin, the climate summit has been the subject of controversy over fossil fuel influence.

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According to documents obtained by independent journalists at the Centre for Climate Reporting and seen by the BBC, the UAE planned to use its role as host to strike oil and gas deals. The leaked briefing documents reveal plans to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 nations.

Greenpeace International Policy Coordinator Kaisa Kosonen says, if the allegations are true, it is “totally unacceptable and a real scandal”.

“The climate summit leader should be focused on advancing climate solutions impartially, not backroom deals that are fuelling the crisis.”

The climate summit leader should be focused on advancing climate solutions impartially, not backroom deals that are fuelling the crisis.
Kaisa Kosonen
Policy Coordinator, Greenpeace International

Kosonen adds that this kind of conflict of interest was what many feared when the CEO of an oil company was appointed to the role. Amnesty International has renewed its calls for Al Jaber to step down from his role at ADNOC if he wants to lead a successful summit. 

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The Greenpeace International Policy Coordinator says the only way to claw back credibility and make this COP what the world is waiting for is through actions.

“That means brokering a global agreement for a just and equitable phase-out of all fossil fuels, in alignment with science, and making polluters pay for the loss and damage they’ve caused to communities.”

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