COP28: Another Jamboree, Delivered Little to Stop Climate Change

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On 12 December, the 28th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), otherwise called COP28, concluded in Dubai. World leaders’ lack of serious commitment to the climate crisis was evident, despite some concessions. The Nigerian delegation was a glaring presence at the conference because of their outrageously excessive number of members.

Austerity measures at home, 1,411 delegates flown to Dubai

The Nigerian delegation was in the COP28 news for the wrong reasons. Comprising 1,411 individuals, it ranked as the third largest, following the UAE and Brazil. UAE was the host country, so it did not have to fly in its delegates like Nigeria. Brazil has a longstanding history of environmental justice politics. The country hosted the first Earth Summit in Rio, where the UNFCC was established in 1992. Further, in contrast to Nigeria, where most NGOs working on climate change, as well as other areas of work in the “development sector,” are known for their proposal-driven “activism”, Brazil also has mass-based social movements that seriously dedicate themselves to ecological issues. 

It is thus difficult to find any similar justification for the huge delegation of Nigeria. President Bola Tinubu was dismissive of climate change during his campaign. He described the need for action to address the climate crisis as a problem of the West which he would not comply with because “we are a poor nation.”   

His government’s decision to spend over $800m on flying about 500 delegates as official representatives to Dubai is thus indefensible. And, considering the burden that it has already placed on poor working people in Nigeria with policies that have led to sharp increases in the cost of living, it is like rubbing salt on an open wound. 

Apart from the amount spent on flights, the government delegates would have also received huge sums as estacode (travel allowance). When we add these to the flight and hotel costs, the government delegation’s participation would exceed $1bn. Meanwhile, many of these official representatives had no business with the COP negotiations and were in Dubai just to “catch cruise”, including shopping and leisure activities with our money.

We must demand full accountability for this governmental jamboree and resist any such unjustifiable waste of Nigeria’s resources in the future. 

Weak deal on fossil fuel puts profit before the people and planet

The focus of people’s anger in Nigeria has been the irresponsible waste of resources that could have been used to ameliorate the worsening situation of the poor. But we must also examine if COP28 made impactful decisions considering the existential challenge posed by the climate crisis.

For the first time, the COP acknowledged the need to transition away from fossil fuels. It also set up a global loss and damage fund to support the poorest and most vulnerable hit by countries facing climate disasters, building on a decision reached at COP27 in Egypt last year.. 

The resolution on fossil fuels which was included in the final text of the COP28 agreement, was a compromise position. The initial draft tried to skip any serious reference to the dire impact of fossil fuels on global heating. Oil-dependent countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with lobbyists for oil corporations, vehemently resisted such inclusion, despite it being demanded by 130 countries. 

Thus, the final text stopped short of calling for an end to the deadly expansion plans of fossil fuels. What this means is that the world will not be able to stop the heating up of the world beyond 1.5°C by 2030. Already, 41 out of the 42 indicators of progress towards meeting the 2030 targets were off track. 

2023 has been the hottest year on record, six months breaking the record of the hottest months ever recorded. Severe weather conditions have caused so many deaths and suffering. In Africa alone, at least 15,700 people lost their lives to extreme weather disasters. These climate disasters also affected 34 million people in several ways, including displacement and starvation due to famines and droughts. 

If the world is facing such calamity already, one can only imagine the consequences of not meeting the set target of 1.5°C by 2030. If world leaders truly cared about saving the planet and the people most impacted by the climate crisis, they would have agreed to take immediate and drastic action at COP28 to prevent further climate catastrophes. 

But they represent the interest of capital. And the oil industry is central to the expansion of capital. Fossil fuels drive production for profit. Petroleum is also the main export of several countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Russia and Nigeria, all of which have plans to expand their oil and gas production. The USA and Canada also have similar plans. Such expansion would make it impossible to even keep global heating below 2°C, not to talk of 1.5°C.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in international politics, including around the UNFCCC conferences. Western imperialist nations were quick to condemn Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, the COP president and CEO of ADNOC, the UA national oil company, for his stance at the start of COP28. Al-Jaber had claimed, tongue-in-cheek, that there is “no science” backing the demands to phase out the use of fossil fuels to avoid pushing global heating beyond 1.5°C. This is clearly nonsense. But the driving force behind fossil fuels is corporations. And most of these oil corporations are based in Western countries which fully back them. 

COP28 had the largest number of fossil fuel lobbyists ever. There were 2,456 of them there. If they were a country, they would have beaten Nigeria to the third position in terms of delegates’ size. They came from different countries, with a significant number of them being from Europe and North America. And they successfully wielded their influence as we can see from the lacklustre outcome of COP28.

The loss and damage fund mechanism is a farce

The other major agreement was no less lacklustre. While the setting up of a loss and damage fund as earlier agreed has been described as a landmark, it is too little to make any significance. Considering that the greatest polluting countries did not respect earlier decisions that imposed the responsibility on them to assist poorer countries in adaptation and mitigation, it is unlikely that the countries will honour commitments to even the minimal amount allocated for the loss and damage fund. 

According to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, loss and damage cost in developing countries is estimated at $400bn annually. This figure is likely to keep rising sharply as climate disasters get more frequent and more severe. 

The World Bank will manage the new fund which is supposed to help rescue and rehabilitate communities devastated by climate disasters. Based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), there was a general understanding that the wealthier countries who are the main polluters would bear greater responsibility in providing money for the funds. But, several of them pushed back against this before COP28. 

The initial commitments made thus far have been from the EU, the US and Japan. Added up together, by the end of the Conference, countries had pledged barely US$700m. This is just 0.17% of what the most affected developing countries need annually!

We have been here before. In 2009, developed countries agreed to make US$100bn available to developing countries every year to meet the global climate finance goal by 2025. They did not meet this goal. According to a 2022 Eurodad report, there was a deficit of US$381.6bn between the commitments made and mobilised funds between 2013 and 2020. 

Those who are celebrating the loss and damage fund as a breakthrough that developing countries will benefit from are thus living in a fool’s paradise. 

System change, not climate change: educate, mobilise, organise!

COP28 was a jamboree. The Nigerian delegation’s size shows how the country’s ruling class flagrantly squanders money that could help provide social services for poor working people. We need to hold the government accountable. But the Conference was a jamboree in a broader and more global sense as well. It delivered little to stop climate change. And this is not unusual, or accidental. That has been the story with every single COP since 1995 in Berlin.

The idea behind the UNFCCC is an illusion that we can quench the raging fire of climate crisis with incremental dousing of its flames with teaspoonfuls of water. There can be no other approach beyond this illusion within the capitalist system because the system is based on the profit motive. 

The far-reaching steps that have to be taken to stop climate change can be taken only with the social and ecological transition to a system where economic and political decisions are taken by working people, who constitute the immense majority of the human population. We are not driven by the profit motive of the billionaire class and their corporations. Therefore, working people, who make up the vast majority of the human population, can take political decisions that prioritise the needs of the people and the planet.

We can make this transition only through an international socialist revolution, where the working class defeats the capitalists and their profit-driven exploitation of both nature and our labour across the world.

This international revolution will not just come about tailor-made. It will emerge from our relentless and consistent struggle today. The pressure of this struggle could lead the capitalists and their states to make concessions out of fear for our collective power. We must not forget that it took the emergence of environmental justice as a social movement from the 1960s to the 1980s for governments to arrive at the Earth Summit in 1992. 

But mere concessions are not enough at this point. What is now at stake is the stark reality of socialist revolution or human extinction. 

by Baba AYE

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