Stronger course correction needed at COP28
February 5, 2024 – Annabelle Liao, a student in LFS’ Global Resource Systems, attended Week 1 of COP28 in Dubai, UAE, from Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2023. She was among more than 70,000 people who attended COP28 (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) where attendees had the chance to meet people from around the world, and discuss corrective action to address the climate crisis. Annabelle shares her concerns, inspirations, and opinions of the event.
You attended COP28 in Dubai on behalf of ClimaTalk, a youth-led organization that aims to empower young people who are working towards climate action. What were your goals and expectations in attending?
Ahead of attending I had two scopes of work in mind: first, to interview as many youth activists and leaders as possible and amplify the work that brought them to COP28 (which would be processed into video reels for ClimaTalk’s social media), and secondly, to attend as many negotiations and events as possible to contribute to the release of the daily thematic briefs. These were my goals, and I’m glad that I can look back on my week in Dubai and be assured that I gave as much time and energy as I could towards maximizing my COP28 experience not only for myself but also for my community and youth back home. In terms of expectations, because I am naturally an optimist I really thought that this could be the course-correction COP desperately needed by the world. Needless to say, you can imagine my extreme letdown.
How did you prepare for COP28?
Preparing for COP28 was one of the most daunting things I have ever tasked myself with – a common sentiment among all delegates is that you can prepare forever and still feel woefully unready when you get to the conference! I received confirmation that I would be attending as an Observer in early October, and from then on until December it was a whirlwind. Because I was on ClimaTalk’s COP28 Project Team, a lot of my work involved creating digestible resources that simplified international proceedings and climate policy (for example, I co-created the ABCs of Climate COPs!), and this really enhanced my own knowledge of what COP meant. I also happened to be on an exchange semester at the National University of Singapore last semester, and one of my professors connected me to a researcher who has attended and organized many delegations for the university; she invited me to attend the preparatory briefings and panels meant for the university’s own delegation which I’m super grateful for, and I learned lots there! However, one of the most helpful ways to prepare in my opinion is to read the news. Staying up to date on different nations’ goals for the conference, different industries’ stake in the climate, the objectives of COP28, and especially tentative policy or financial commitments really helped me set the stage ahead of attending. Understanding what is happening in the world gets you far at COP.
Can you share some of the most important events that you attended, and why were they important?
The most memorable event I attended out of all the meetings, negotiations, panels, and workshops at COP28 was actually a side event called “Unlocking Climate Finance to Communities in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations”. This was impactful to me for many reasons – the panel comprised a diversity of voices ranging from individuals working on deploying climate finance to advocates for Indigenous rights and autonomy, and it truly seemed like the speakers were learning from each other and interacting with each other instead of individually answering the questions posed.
It was remarked that counties and people should determine what they need and what solutions to pursue, rather than investors and funders. This means that funding programs need to be designed with conflict-sensitivity, conflict-analysis, and a proper understanding of the conflict to reverse the unfortunate situation that the most vulnerable communities producing the least emissions are currently facing the heaviest impacts of climate change yet receive insufficient funding to adapt. The climate crisis has a disproportionate impact on communities in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCS) which both causes and exacerbates poverty, instability, and extreme food insecurity, and this side event really sought to highlight financial solutions that target the most pressing environmental and social issues. One speaker, Pirawan Wongnithisathaporn from the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, especially connected to speakers and audience alike with her heartfelt and passionate tone. Besides continuously highlighting the need for hyperlocal and accessible funding to Indigenous communities and emphasizing the connectedness of our global ecosystems, she also said something that heavily resonated in the midst of the finance-centric event: “The land is our life, the rivers are our blood, and [their value] cannot be calculated with dollars.”
Did you meet anyone particularly inspiring?
All of the youth! Recounting COP28 would not be complete without also highlighting the power and joy fostered and felt by all of the youth, activists, and climate organizers. The large majority of my week in Dubai was spent alongside other youth delegates, and together we created, rallied, learned, and laughed. The sheer determination I witnessed when I interviewed other youth leaders, activists, and grassroots organizations continues to give me hope, and I met so many inspiring individuals who manifest what it means to show up for our communities. I will forever be grateful that my week at COP28 gave me the opportunity to uplift others and be uplifted through the power of climate storytelling. With ~85,000 delegates from 197 countries (and more islands and territories), it was the most diverse and global environment I have ever been immersed in, yet thousands of youth stood united through our desire to see a greener and equitable tomorrow.
What are your key takeaways from COP28 in terms of what you would like to see from world leaders moving forward?
Estimates suggest that the combined total of US$700 million pledged so far to the Loss & Damage Fund by wealthy, high-emitting countries to compensate the poorest countries (who also often cause the least environmental degradation) for climate impacts amounts to 0.2% of the annual cost of climate destruction. We currently live in a society that speaks with dollars, and so right now the signal being sent by world leaders is that the climate crisis is not important enough to dedicate real solutions towards, and that not everyone deserves a climate resilient future. Moving forward, we need to see a genuine amount of capital deployed directly towards the frontlines of climate action, and towards marginalized communities who both face the impacts of climate change and have the unique solutions to mitigate it.
The final Global Stocktake agreement (a process that assesses the global response to the climate crisis every 5 years, with COP28 being the first one) marked the first COP text that openly called on countries to gradually move away from fossil fuels. Was this the shining victory we needed at COP28? Some think so, but the notion that it would take decades to even officially recognize fossil fuels’ massive role in climate change is mind-boggling and goes against the wealth of data scientists have been procuring for even longer. Moreover, many were outraged when the previous draft changed the language from “phase out” fossil fuels to “phase down”. “Phasing out” fossil fuels means an absolute stop to burning fossil fuels and includes targets like achieving net-zero emissions by a certain year, since there is an end in sight; on the other hand, “phasing down” is a loose commitment that entails gradually decreasing the amount of fossil fuels burned without any concrete metrics of success. The fact that this happened was crazy to me because more than 100 of the 200 attending nations had already expressed support for the use of “phase out,” and this really exemplified the unequal power dynamics that still favor high-emitting wealthy nations at COPs.
Congratulations on being recently named a Top 25 Environmentalist under 25 by The Starfish – what does recognition this mean to you?
Any recognition that I’ve received – whether it be the Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25, the UBC Sustainability Leadership Award, or UBC Faces of Today Award, is a direct reflection of my communities’ relentless support and testament to the leaders before me who have paved the way for aspiring changemakers. Anything I’ve ever accomplished has only been possible because certain peers, mentors, colleagues, and of course my amazing faculty (LFS!) took a chance on me and my ideas, and my only hope is that I can leverage these recognitions to keep pursuing more meaningful projects and climate-driven work. Every day I am just so extremely grateful for the people rallying around me and the opportunities and resources I have access to!