Photo by Tamara Lorincz
By Tamara Lorincz, PhD candidate
February 8, 2024
I attended the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which took place from November 30 to December 12, 2023 and was held in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a petrostate, during the hottest year on record.
COP 28 was considered a historic conference, because it was the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement, and the largest with over 80,000 delegates registered. I was selected as a member of the Climate Action Network-Réseau action climat Canada (CAN-Rac) delegation, an umbrella organization of Canadian climate and environmental groups.
As a delegate with observer status, I had access to the blue zone where I followed the negotiations, attended high-level plenaries, participated in civil society actions and visited country pavilions. Participation in the climate summit was a valuable, immersive experience for me to better understand the UNFCCC system and engage in important field research. I am doing my dissertation on the exclusion of military emissions in global climate governance.
In 1997 at COP 3 in Japan, the United States’ negotiating team pressured countries to agree to an exemption for military emissions. This decision resulted in a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions being overlooked by state parties and in COP outcomes over the past two decades.
At COP 28, emissions from the military and war were still absent in the formal agenda. However, it was civil society organizations and activists that raised the problem of military emissions and the climate impacts of war. While I was in Dubai, I was able to speak to delegates about this critical problem.
In this short reflection piece, I will share some of my observations from COP 28 focusing on war, peace and the hope of climate cooperation.
More War and Global Warming
Tragically, COP 28 started when the four-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ended and the war resumed. Gaza is less than 2,500 kilometres away from Dubai. At this point, almost 20,000 Palestinians had been killed and 40,000 wounded from Israel’s bombing. Gaza’s energy systems, water treatment plants, schools and hospitals were destroyed. In his opening remarks at the climate conference, the UN Secretary General António Guterres described the situation for the people in Gaza as “immense suffering.” Many delegates and workers at the venue were Palestinian and personally affected by the war. During the conference, activists called for a “Ceasefire Now” in Gaza and in other conflict affected countries. Civil society delegates raised concerns about the increased vulnerability of people in conflict zones like Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to climate change.
Little Relief, Recovery and Peace
For the first time at a climate conference, peace was on the thematic program, though not on the official agenda. The UAE designated December 3rd as the “Relief, Recovery and Peace” day. At a high-level event with top diplomats, the COP Presidency released its new Declaration on “Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace”. The declaration is a non-binding, voluntary initiative to help conflict-affected countries that are the most vulnerable to climate change become more resilient with targeted programs and financing. I attended the event and appreciated Colombia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Álvaro Leyva’s speech emphasizing that “We need peace with nature and we need global peace for climate action.” For Peace Day at COP 28, several civil society groups took the opportunity to host side events and hold actions related to “Peace for Climate Justice”, “Stop the Wars, Stop the Warming”, “Demilitarization for Decarbonization,” and “Cutting military spending for climate finance.”
China and its Panda Climate Diplomacy
I was impressed with China’s “panda climate diplomacy” in Dubai. The UN Secretary General António Guterres and civil society activists lauded China’s constructive and collaborative influence at COP 28. China effectively led the G77 coalition of countries during the negotiations. China placed a big panda statue in front of its incredible pavilion. Every day at its pavilion, Chinese delegates welcomed people with tea, wrote people’s names in calligraphy, and passed out panda tote bags with hats, buttons and literature about country’s climate projects. China hosted many informative and inspiring sessions on its greening strategies and renewable energy technologies. I learned a lot about China’s mitigation and adaptation programs and was lucky to receive one of its cute panda bags.
Colombia, A Ray of Hope for Climate and Humanity
Colombia also stood out for being a positive and progressive force at COP 28. International civil society awarded the South American country its only “Ray of the Day” honour for being “catalytic in building support for a full, fair, fast, and funded phase out of all fossil fuels”. During the negotiations, Colombia consistently ensured that human, labour, gender and Indigenous people’s rights were in the texts. The country also called for the inclusion of civil society in all aspects of the conference. Colombian negotiators were accessible and engaged closely with Indigenous leaders and activists. As well, Colombia impressively scaled up its climate ambition at the conference. President Gustavo Petro announced that his country would join the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (FFNPT), the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) and the new Declarations on Health and Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace. In Dubai, I heard President Petro speak passionately for climate justice at the high-level plenary on the FFNPT. The year before, at COP 27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, I had the privilege of meeting with the President in person and thanked him for his leadership.
Hope for Cooperation and Peace for Climate Justice
Though the outcome document of COP 28 does not mention peace or emissions from the military and war, it does emphasize international cooperation. The 21-page document, which is the First Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement, is divided into four sections. The first section explains that countries are to “transition away from fossil fuels,” which is a crucial commitment that received considerable media attention. Yet, the third section, International Cooperation, is equally significant. It recognizes “that international cooperation is critical for addressing climate change, in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.” Countries cannot cooperate on climate, if they are engaged in armed conflict.
It is hoped that peace will have a more prominent presence at COP 29 as it will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan. Last fall, Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to a prisoner exchange and have begun negotiations for a peace settlement to resolve their protracted conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. As a sign of goodwill, Armenia withdrew its bid and supported Azerbaijan to host the international climate conference from November 11-22 this year. I plan to attend.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BSIA, its students, faculty, staff, or Board of Directors.