AAs Cop28 ended after an exhausting 14 days, many people were grasping at straws and searching for meaning in the text’s mere mention of a fossil fuel transition. There will be headlines talking about how much progress is just saying that – even without any demands for real action.
This would have been very welcome 20 or even 10 years ago, but it has not been a game changer for avoiding climate catastrophe, ending the age of deadly fossil fuels, or saving the North Star of the 1, 5°C. To claim that this is a triumph, or anything close to it, is simply a lie.
One more lie to add to all the other lies told so often that those who tell them start to believe them: the lie that rich countries care about climate justice. The lie that human rights are separate from climate justice. The lie that the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway and the United Kingdom are very ambitious and that it is the developing countries that lack it.
Rich countries have worked hard to try to make this Cop a hollow headline on fossil fuels. They are like emperors without clothes. The UK, US and EU have not only flatly refused to discuss reducing their own emissions in line with both fairness and science, but their agreement on “phasing out fossil fuels” has more flaws than a block of Swiss cheese. This comes without recognition of historical responsibility, nor redistribution, nor overhaul of a financial system of debt, taxation and trade that has been rigged to keep developing countries locked into resource exploitation simply to fulfill the coffers of rich countries.
Our movements, our frontline communities know these are lies. Scientists know these are lies, as do many developing countries. Those who already experience the realities of unjust climate change know that a rise of 1.5°C will result in a death sentence for the poorest, but we remain on track for global warming of 3°C.
In the corridors of a lavish conference center in Dubai Expo City – a conference center built with the blood and sweat of thousands of exploited migrant workers – powerful governments, with corporate lobbyists whispering to them ear, negotiated texts, all with profound implications for billions of people. lives on a global scale. We know from years of bitter experience that climate negotiations are not just about carbon, but also about the global economy, about those who benefit from a rigged economy who want to continue to benefit from it, even if it brings humanity to the brink of catastrophe.
We have never had any illusions about the magnitude of the task that awaits us. Climate justice groups see the UN negotiations as a contested space where our power, as mass movements of people, pits itself against the power of corporate capital. We may not have the same access as the rich to ensure that decisions made at the Cop protect our interests. But we know how to use all the tools at our disposal not only to keep our ideas alive, but also to make them politically inevitable.
I’m not a defeatist cop. I know change can be won. On the opening day of the conference, the loss and damage fund was finally put into operation, but with promises that were only a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the damage. This fund was created by our movements, which we fought for at a time when many people within the UN, including leading environmentalists, were openly arguing that justice was distracting from the real goal of reducing emissions of carbon. The US administration, for its part, said that such an admission would constitute a red line and that it would never accept responsibility for the damage it caused. Our walkouts, our global and national activities, our pressure and determination, and our detailed policy work have offered a glimmer of hope to many.
Two days ago, US climate envoy John Kerry said we have never had to make decisions where the outcome was a matter of life and death. He forgot that the United States recently vetoed a UN resolution to stop what other UN experts consider to be war crimes and genocide in the making in Gaza. Despite attempts to silence us, we raised the Palestinian voice in the climate negotiations – calling not only for a ceasefire but also for an end to the occupation. These calls are crucial. There can be no climate justice without human rights.
Those of us fighting for climate justice are often told that we are on the margins or unrealistic. But it is those who currently hold the most power who are being unrealistic. We are the ones who really know that this is a fight to the death. We are the most realistic and therefore we are the only hope for the future. So we will come back, stronger and more powerful, until it is the interests of people and not those of profit that shape climate negotiations.