Is COP Just ‘Blah Blah Blah’?

30 November 2023 - // Opinions
Sudhanshu Verma
Head of Brussels Office, REVOLVE

Is the UN Conference of the Parties merely rhetoric or a crucial step in global climate action?

Reflecting on the intricacies of political processes, one is often reminded of the frustrating yet familiar task of planning a holiday with a group of friends or setting up a meeting with 20 colleagues and agreeing on the agenda. Picture the scene: diverse opinions, conflicting schedules, and a myriad of preferences to consider. While seemingly mundane, this scenario perfectly encapsulates the complexity and challenges inherent in global political negotiations, particularly those akin to the Conference of the Parties (COP)

Take, for instance, the upcoming COP28 in Dubai. At first glance, these meetings might seem as effectual as a group struggling to agree on a holiday destination. The setting itself – the United Arab Emirates, a major oil producer, amidst allegations of using the climate talks to broker oil and gas deals – adds layers of controversy and scepticism. It’s easy to see why some might view COP as a high-level talk fest with little real-world impact. 

Dismissing COP as mere rhetoric overlooks its critical role in shaping the global climate agenda.

Yet, in this complexity lies the essence of COP’s significance. Amidst the cacophony of voices and diverse interests, COP serves as a melting pot for global climate policy, where every nation, regardless of its size or economic strength, has a voice. It’s a platform where small island nations, vulnerable to the devastating impacts of climate change, can stand on equal footing with industrial giants. 

Dismissing COP as mere rhetoric overlooks its critical role in shaping the global climate agenda. These conferences are vital in maintaining climate action as a focal point of international politics. The influence of COP extends well beyond immediate outcomes; it’s a catalyst for evolving conversations and policies, drawing even the staunchest climate change sceptics into the dialogue.  

Despite criticisms, the necessity of such a global platform is undeniable. As highlighted in my previous editorial on the IPCC report, “There is Still Hope if We Act Now”, the scientific community has underscored the urgent need for collective global action – a mandate that COP seeks to address. 

The COP process, admittedly imperfect, has seen its share of milestones. The Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015, marking the first global commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions, stands as a testament to the progress possible through these meetings. This historic agreement, aiming to limit temperature rises to below 2°C, sparked widespread climate action, though much remains to be done to meet these ambitious targets. 

Simon Stiell, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, speaking at a side event on loss and damage at COP27 in Sharm Al-Sheikh, Egypt, 2022. Photo: Kiara Worth / UNFCCC Flickr

COP28’s agenda is set to reflect both past achievements and future challenges. Key issues include broadening Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to cover comprehensive economic activities and addressing financial disparities in climate action. The summit is expected to delve into the complexities of renewable energy financing, technology transfer, and capacity-building for developing nations. 

Moreover, COP28 presents an opportunity to address critical gaps in global climate policy. The need for a robust mechanism to track and report progress on NDCs, ensuring transparency and accountability, is more urgent than ever. Discussions on enhancing adaptation measures are also anticipated, especially for communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 

The conference will also spotlight the role of non-state actors, including businesses, cities, and civil society, in driving climate action. Their involvement is crucial in scaling-up efforts and bringing innovative solutions to the table. 

To sum up, while COP summits are often perceived as ineffective, they are, in fact, crucial for advancing global climate dialogue. Like the arduous process of planning a group holiday, progress is slow and fraught with challenges. Yet, without these collective efforts, the journey towards effective climate mitigation and adaptation would be far more uncertain.  

COP, far from being mere ‘blah blah blah’, is an essential, albeit flawed, vehicle driving our global conversation and response to the climate crisis. As we gear up for COP28, let’s remember that each summit is a step towards a sustainable and resilient future in our ongoing journey to keep a liveable planet

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not (necessarily) reflect REVOLVE's editorial stance.
Sudhanshu Verma
Head of Brussels Office, REVOLVE

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