Since its creation in 1995, Cop – or the very long-winded Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Conference of Parties (IPCC Cop) – has attracted criticism. Some say that there is no action; others that it is becoming a corporate festival. There is even more reason to be sceptical at Cop28 this year, since the event has as conference president Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the head of a UAE state oil company.
I agree that there are morally serious concerns about human rights and democracy in the UAE. These are made worse by the leaked documents suggesting that al-Jaber is using this as an opportunity to make oil deals, which would be a flagrant conflict of interest. For many people, these points might breed cynicism – so why should I (and the University College Cork delegation I lead) go?
First, we agree that there are legitimate concerns that Cop28 negotiations will be strongly influenced by lobbying from the fossil fuel industry. But we believe those are reasons to engage and to not cede ground to others who do not share our values. If the meeting is limited to those who do not care deeply about human rights and climate justice, then it will become an echo chamber.
Second, for these reasons, this year the UCC delegation is sharing space (and our own badges, which allow us access to non-public parts of the conference) with environmental activists from the Global South. We have these badges since UCC is the only Irish university with official observer status.
But not everyone has that kind of privilege. In recent years, the number of badges for environmental activists and associated non-governmental organisations has fallen. By sharing our badges, we think that they can help advocate for climate justice with the added benefit of fewer carbon emissions – since those we are sharing with would not have to travel as far.
In doing so, we are enabling a platform for marginalised voices from most affected countries – acting as a counterweight to the repression of protest and demonstrations in UAE. These voices have been historically underrepresented in international contexts. We may not have chosen UAE as the host country for Cop28, but that’s not within our control. How we respond to it is.
Third, we know that the Irish public cares about climate change. And that some Irish politicians are pushing for high ambition at Cop28. These points are especially relevant at a moment where we are attempting our own national green transition through multiparty agreement and legislation. This means that it is crucial to have specifically Irish voices and perspectives, people who can observe and report back – helping to hold various actors to account. We view part of our goal as being accessible to the public, helping to explain the processes and results. This transparency is why we want this opinion to be accessible.
Finally, it is important that scientists and academics attend; otherwise these events can become showcases for industry and private interests. It is our job to teach and develop relevant research and help inform these processes. This is a chance to learn from our international peers about the latest work on climate change. It is a chance to represent Ireland to the world. And, as someone who attended Cop26 in Glasgow, I can also provide context and experience as well as mentorship to younger scientists.
In fact, one member of our delegation will be conducting research into how civil society groups and Indigenous people are represented and heard in climate negotiations. We hope that this kind of research will help increase inclusion in future events – and, in any event, it couldn’t be done if we didn’t attend.
The Cop meetings are not going to solve climate change by themselves. But nothing is; the point is that climate change requires many people doing things large and small in pursuit of a shared goal. And every contribution helps to reduce the risks.
Dr Kian Mintz-Woo is leader of the UCC delegation travelling to Cop28. He is member of the Government’s Carbon Budgets Working Group, helping to propose and support national planning, and works primarily on moral philosophy, both theoretical and applied to climate policy