21 December 2023 – I opened up my 15th COP with this “out of office” statement.
“I am at COP with 90,000+ others. Is this a circus? Yes, but with the backing of youth activists and The Club of Rome, I will continue to push for an ambitious outcome especially on fossil fuel phase out, regenerative food systems, real capital commitment and systems solutions.”
People asked me why such a provocative out of office message? Basically, I was torn coming to Dubai and I continued to be the entire duration! But in the end, I have no personal regrets because at least I can proudly announce that The Club of Rome made its presence felt and its voice heard! Even if the outcome was a farce and without COP Reform many of us will not go back. Especially since COP29 in Azerbajan will simply be a holding COP until COP30 in Brazil.
Let’s retrace our steps: We started off on a semi high note with the Loss & Damage Fund announcement on Day 1 but this deal quickly soured when we all realised that the actual funds committed ($500mil) were making a mockery of actual needs and were a drop in the bucket compared to daily oil & gas profits of $2,8 bil.
Then the second big blow on Day 4 hit the press, COP 28 President Sultan Al’Jaber was quoted in The Guardian and many other newspapers saying that there was no scientific evidence to prove the need for a fossil fuel phase out and that the end of fossil energy would “take our world back into caves”. These remarks were taken from the SHE Changes Climate and The Dandelion Project Virtual Summit held earlier in the week where the Sultan had closed the session with former President of Ireland Mary Robinson. But it was the link to the lack of science that triggered the need to draft a letter from climate scientists to reinforce the causal and scientific with a phase out. We could not let such statements go unchallenged especially as the importance of science-based decision making was a critical component of our calls for COP Reform.
48 hrs later a statement from scientists, initially published by more than 100 scientists emphasising the irrefutable link between climate science and the imperative need for fossil fuel phase-out, was delivered to Sultan Al’Jaber and to the press. With a record 2,456 fossil fuel representatives at COP28, amplifying the voice of science has never been more crucial. We cannot underestimate what an incredible feat this was to get IPCC scientists and other scientists to come together to disprove the Sultan’s remarks and reinforce the scientific case for a fossil fuel phase out and the reduction of all abated and unabated emissions by 2050. The latter has become the lynch pin for the debate on the role of carbon dioxide removal and the push by all oil producing countries to only focus on unabated emissions targets. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), while theoretically promising, is still under question at the scale needed as shown in the scientific letter and growing scientific evidence. Nor do we know whether these CDR methods will be enough to remove even the difficult-to-abate emissions in a timely manner.
Scientific advocacy for fossil fuel phase-out
Despite challenges, including comments undermining the science behind fossil fuel phase-out as mentioned above, The Club of Rome teamed up with Future Earth and the World Climate Research Program, to actively advocated for a clear scientific case supporting the phase-out of fossil fuel energy.
So coming back to the massive elephant in the room, a fossil fuel phase out deal became the main game in town during the entire COP as the pressure mounted on both sides of the debate. Half-way through the COP, a letter from OPEC to its members (including the UAE) was leaked once again by The Guardian. The letter showed the world that OPEC, alongside the 2,456 oil & gas lobbyists, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, were against any deal and were putting pressure on OPEC members to refuse fossil fuel phase out language in the final agreement. This put Sultan Al’Jaber in a very difficult position as there was growing evidence by this time that a deal would become his legacy and he was trying hard to find a potential compromise. On the State negotiating side, the High Ambition Countries led by the EU and AOSIS made it clear that strong phase out language was needed and the only possible deal. This group was tepidly supported by the US, India and China who agreed some language was needed but it could include unabated fossil energy emissions and focus more on a transition rather than a phase out. The US was pretty much in the same camp and more leaked data showed that 93% of US members of congress are somehow funded by oil and gas interests. India on the other hand was surprisingly more forthcoming on a more ambitious deal.
On the non-state actor side, several existing and new initiatives gained momentum, the We Mean Business coalition campaign “Dirty to Clean”, with more than 200 businesses, and the Non-Fossil Fuel Proliferation Treaty took centre stage as they were already set up pre-COP and brought corporates, governments, civil society leaders together around a fossil fuel phase out deal. We supported both initiatives over the past months and I was asked to be an ambassador (OpEd published in Reuters). They were joined by a major campaign Transformation is Unstoppable and video at COP led by the B team in collaboration with many organisations, including The Club of Rome, bringing together 2000 signatories across business, finance, philanthropy, politics, academia and civil society.
On the last day of COP28, the temperature in Dubai was reaching new heights literally and figuratively. Alongside Paris COP15, this was the busiest and most intense COP of my career as everything hinged on getting a fossil fuel phase out deal, unlocking finance and more commitments on shifting to a regenerative food system and land use!
We worked collectively around the clock to make something happen.
Dynamic engagement and shaking things up through side-events and media spaces
With over 10 members of The Club of Rome actively engaging on-site (Hunter Lovins, Per Espen Stoknes, Michael K. Dorsey, Michael Pirson, Esmeralda de Belgique, Sheela Patel, Helmy Abouleish, Gonzalo Muñoz, Runa Khan, Wanjira Mathai, Naoko Ishii and Garry Jacobs) the CoR had the largest and most diverse COP delegation in history. This included the sponsorship of Thaline Gomez Nareoja of the Brazilian Amazon Karaja Community as part of our delegation including a badge, travel and lodging covered jointly with our Member Esmeralda de Belgique.
Members of The Club of Rome played a pivotal role in an array of side-events and media spaces, delving into critical topics such as economic systems change, youth activism, urban housing for the most vulnerable, fossil-fuel phase out and the energy transition, resilience and adaptation, regenerative agriculture and new business models, radical collaboration, and the preservation of the Amazon, amongst others. This multifaceted involvement underscored our commitment to addressing a wide range of pressing issues at the forefront of the global discourse.
A photo album of some of our activities.
Advocating for systemic change and COP reform
Throughout COP, members of The Club of Rome joined me in actively advocating for COP Reform. Johan Rockström and I convened signatories, stakeholders and members on 1 December to strategise on amplifying our call for COP Reform both in events and in bilateral discussions with governments during the negotiations. We agreed that the joint call for reform needed to focus on bringing science back into the negotiations, smaller more frequent meetings focusing on ambition, shifts in Presidency governance and interaction with non-State actors. Note that just before coming to COP, I was finally informed that a COP Reform Advisory Board would be established post COP.
Events like “Unlocking Solutions through Transformational Science” at the UNFCCC Pavilion and the “10 New Insights Panel” at the ASU Pavilion (provided by Michael Dorsey) offered valuable platforms for these discussions. Not only were we able to emphasise the imperative of reintegrating science into the COPs but also the key scientific insights of importance per the 10 New Insights in Climate Science. Notably, at COP28, scientists make up a mere 0.5% of the participants, underscoring the urgency of reinforcing the scientific foundation within these critical global gatherings.
Earth4All and beyond growth gaining traction
Earth4All continued to gain traction through various events. A presentation at the C40 Steering Committee, featuring the Mayors of Bogota, Dhaka North, Freetown, and the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen in person and many more mayors online, showcased the compelling narrative of Earth4All and moving beyond growth. The main message delivered at that meeting was that the speed of action on planetary boundaries is a function of the speed of action on inequality and poverty and that it is the cities that are on the frontline of citizen engagement and shifting to new economic realities. This correlation between reducing inequality to ensure a rapid de-carbonisation and reduction in consumption underscores the urgency for collective action and shows cities as catalysts for change, outpacing national governments in their pursuit of sustainable solutions. Mayors in attendance and the C40 as an umbrella organisation asked for further engagement on these topics as well as on well-being economic models and we have already set up a follow up call to explore next steps.
More specifically, we also saw growing interest in the turnarounds and our call for “economic systems change not just climate change”:
- I spoke at several events on Beyond Growth during COP and when returning to Brussels hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee and the Global Peace and Prosperity Forum. This was complemented also by several events on the need for a new financial architecture with MDB’s including the World Bank even agreeing with the need for a new economic and financial paradigm shifting towards people, planet and prosperity and placing a value on natural and human capital
- Our efforts in advocating for a transformation in food systems also saw significant progress. Not only through our collective effort to get the first food and land-use day fully focused on food systems transformation and shifting from industrial agriculture but also in terms of significant mention in the final COP text as also championed by our new member of The Club of Rome Gonzalo Muñoz, former High-level COP 24 and 25 Champion who spearheaded the Accelerating Food Systems Transformation Multistakeholder Action, which again The Club of Rome supported and I helped co draft. Not only did we participate in several events by NOW Partners and the Future Economy Forum, I was honoured to Chair our joint event focusing on Sustainable Consumption, Healthy Affordable Food for All, and Reducing Food Loss and Waste. This event, hosted by TURFS (Transforming Urban and Rural Food Systems), which brings together Club of Rome with the original 5 UN Food System Summit workstream leads showcased our commitment to fostering deep systems change in the urban food landscape and the need for urban-rural corridors. We have already received seed funding for the scoping of this work and hope to receive further funding in 2024.
- We also actively engaged in discussions addressing leadership, inequality, poverty as well as youth, gender, and indigenous community empowerment. Our involvement included participation in the SHE Changes Climate High-level Multistakeholder Dialogue on achieving a 50:50 Balance in climate decision making, the Club of Rome/Friendship (Led by Runa Khan) /50% event on youth activism and storytelling, The Force of Nature Event hosted by the Nature Conservancy to talk about leadership and courage, the launch of the incredible Roof Over Our Heads Campaign with Sheela, and the launch of the powerful film AMAZONIA directed by Esmeralda of Belgium.
Other important topics
In addition to the aforementioned topics, we actively engaged with two other crucial subjects.
The COP28 Presidency, in collaboration with the Forest & Climate Leader’s Partnership (FCLP), orchestrated a gathering of ministers, businesses, indigenous representatives, and diverse stakeholders. This assembly aimed to evaluate the advancements in implementing the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use. It was a privilege for me to Chair this significant annual event, integral to delivering on Glasgow’s commitment, contributing 10% to the overall mitigation action required to uphold the 1.5°C target. This gathering not only sustained the political momentum but also reinforced the commitment to fulfil these crucial objectives.
Moreover, we actively participated in events and panels addressing the imperative topic of climate governance and leadership. One event, hosted by the Climate Governance Commission, delved into the multifaceted dimensions of bold leadership, governance innovation, and fresh perspectives necessary to effectively manage Our Planetary Emergency per our newest report “Governing Our Planetary Emergency”. The panel comprised Commissioners such as myself and fellow Commissioners Mary Robinson, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Sharan Burrows, Adriana Erthal Adbenur and Johan Rockstrom.
There were many other events hosted by members of The Club of Rome at COP28, below are a selection of opinion pieces and comments.
- Africa must unite and lead the climate change talk by Kaddu Sebunya
- Why COP28 must be the last mega climate jamboree by Sandrine Dixson-Declève and Johan Rockström
- Can a UAE-led climate conference deliver for the world by Maria Mendiluce, CEO of the We Mean Business Coalition and Sandrine Dixson-Declève
- COP-out: Why the petrostate-hosted climate talkfest will fail by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt, Research Coordinator for the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration