On 16 January 2024, the Oxford Martin School hosted a panel discussion reflecting on COP 28 and whether the agreement from that conference (The UAE Consensus) goes far enough. Leading off the discussion, the event moderator, Professor Benito Müller (Environmental Change Institute and ecbi), said the COP began on a sad note for him, as his dear friend and colleague Saleemul Huq had unexpectedly passed away before the COP. He then presented the results of a study that looked at how COP attendance has increased over the years, particularly with respect to the number of Party overflow badges. He said the Dubai COP had over 90,000 registered participants, and that such a huge number was not sustainable. Noting he is working on an updated version of the ecbi publication Quo Vadis COP? Future Arrangements for Intergovernmental Meetings under the UNFCCC, Müller lamented that there is very little interaction between participants at COPs attending the negotiations, the Summit, and the Expo. He suggested that convening a smaller meeting that only focuses on the negotiations in Bonn would limit the number of participants and present the opportunity for smaller countries to preside over COPs as they often lack the necessary infrastructure and capacity to convene a large COP.
Recalling a side event held in Dubai and co-hosted by ecbi and Antigua and Barbuda, Müller warned that the newly-established Loss and Damage Fund could become a “placebo” fund or siphon money from other climate funds. He explained that as governments are reaching their budgetary limits, innovative sources of finance will be needed to fund the response to loss and damage. He mentioned the proposal for climate solidarity levies (as elaborated in an ecbi blog post), which could raise €8-10 billion annually by imposing levies on, for example, air travel and shipping containers. He said these types of levies could be taken up by individual countries or even subnationally.
Professor Myles Allen, School of Geography and the Environment and Department of Physics, Oxford Martin School, said he agreed with COP 28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, saying that there is no scenario in which the phase out of fossil fuels will achieve the 1.5°C temperature goal, although many may not want to state this. He said “obfuscating what the science says” is not helpful, and that we need to focus on what is actually going to achieve the 1.5°C goal. He said the outcome text from Dubai on “transitioning away from fossil fuel in energy systems” is vague, and pointed to the list of technologies to accelerate efforts to achieve net zero by 2050, which are mentioned in the outcome. Allen said that industry is competing with itself to develop carbon neutral fuels or go out of business. Allen wondered whether the agreement on fossil fuels will impact on investment, and said it was important to have businesses and companies at COPs so they can lobby governments. He said ensuring the process delivers is more important than number of participants and how efficient the process is.
Abrar Chaudhury, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, provided a business and finance perspective at the COP, citing the need to bring a range of different stakeholders together. He said during the COP, a record financial commitment of USD 85 billion in new climate finance was made. Some labelled this as historic and pathbreaking, while others, he said, considered the outcomes incompatible with the fossil free world needed. He said, that even with power imbalances, bringing diverse stakeholders together is a first step towards building trust, progress, and finding solutions. Without these conferences, in the words of UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell, we would be headed for a 5°C world. He emphasised the importance of engaging the private sector, saying they are at the heart of the climate challenge, noting that COPs provide an avenue for this engagement to happen. He mentioned that banks, technology firms, industries, start-ups, and consulting companies hosted multiple panels and events during the COP to demonstrate their commitment to addressing climate change. While sceptics might view this as greenwashing, he explained that these actions represent initial steps toward prioritising climate concerns. He stated that individual countries (and delegates) often operate in silos, talking to people they already know, and stressed the need to form new relationships, especially with the private sector and funders.
Nicola Ranger, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, spoke of the critical role that academia plays at the COPs in bringing essential evidence to the process. On finance, she said the more than USD 80 billion in pledges made were positive but still represented only a fraction of the estimated USD 6 trillion needed before 2030 for the energy transition and for adaptation and a fraction of the levels of environmentally damaging subsidies that still persist from governments globally, citing a recent UNEP report on the State of Finance for Nature that points to USD 700 billion a year in nature-damaging subsidies. She also discussed the Environmental Change Institute’s Green Scorpion research paper, which found a USD 7 trillion plus ‘string in the tail’ of economic costs of nature loss that will amplify climate change impacts and emphasised that nature, and adaptation, need to be given equal prominence to mitigation given the sizeable risks faced globally. Noting the GST recognised the large financial gap, she said every financial institution, bank, and regulator must get on board to green the financial system, but also noted that governments around the world needed to work together to create the enabling environment for finance to flow, particularly to emerging and developing economies. On adaptation, she noted the dangerous and persistent myth that investing in adaptation means we have given up on reducing emissions reductions, emphasising that this is a false belief.
With respect to COP 28, Professor Mette Morsing, Director, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, focused on two issues. First, she pointed to diversity and global attention, saying the fact that COP 28 had the largest attendance of any COP thus far is an indication of the global awareness how climate change is at the centre of our economic and social future wellbeing and no longer at the periphery. She emphasised the increasing diversity in attendees from being an almost exclusively male participation during the early COPs to an almost 50/50 balance of male-female participants. However, she wondered why the 28 committee members for COP 29 were all men! Second, she pointed out that our responsibility as researchers is to bring the university (research-based evidence) into the COP, but also to bring the COP back into the university (i.e., educating students on the environment). She noted the demand amongst our students for more focus on the complexity of balancing climate change, social wellbeing, and economic development. She highlighted how COP 28 had an unprecedented focus on finance: how to finance the transition to a more green, just, and equitable world; and how finance sector professionals are not educated in green capitalism. She ended with a call to ‘the university’: to ask ourselves to what extent and to improve the ways in which climate, nature, and the environment are represented in our economics and finance curricula.