Good COP, Bad COP
Reflections on the outcomes of COP28, the annual climate negotiations
Alan S. Miller
More than 80,000 participants, most non-governmental observers, attended this year’s annual climate meetings in Dubai, COP28. It’s been aptly described as a “climate circus” or “expo,” and part trade fair, protest stage, and debate forum. Friends there reported a physical ordeal moving long distances from among the many pavilions covering 1,000 acres, entertained nightly by a light show. The fair-like atmosphere was confirmed by events immediately following the COP — the grounds were being cleared for the creation of a Winter City festival.
The size of the event generated enormous media attention but also led some climate activists and observers to question whether the process is worth the time, effort, and expense. Based on more than 20 years attending such meetings, my view is that the growth in attendance is understandable, a reflection of the increasing recognition global climate change is an existential and urgent matter. While it may appear to be a large trade show or festival (even for many of those attending), the numbers only indirectly influence the outcomes — if at all.
The initial governmental climate meetings were modest affairs. Along with a few hundred others, I attended some of the negotiations leading to the 1992 Convention. The attendance grew over time to average about 25,000 and varied with the agenda (some meetings had little of significance to negotiate) and the ease and cost of participation (e.g., travel to Bali versus Warsaw). A major meeting such as that in Paris in 2015 attracted 40,000. Meanwhile other forums negotiating climate change related issues (e.g., a 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol phasing down use of a powerful greenhouse gas) had far fewer participants.
So, what accounts for the astonishing attendance in Dubai, and what are the implications? First and foremost is the increasing recognition that climate change is more immediate and consequential than previously appreciated. This is reflected in the presence of entire communities of interest barely represented in the past including the implications of climate change for agriculture, diet and food security, oceans, the cryosphere, biodiversity, and human health and the urgent need for more sustainable cooling. Many of…