Climate Change


COP28: What on Earth Happened?

Welcome back to UCL Generation One: The Climate Podcast. Introducing episode 2 of season four.

Views expressed by our guests are their own.


UCL Minds  0:02  
We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.

Simon Chin-Yee  0:10  
The biggest takeaway from this entire cop was that we are nowhere near limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees as set out in Paris,

Mark Maslin  0:20  
All the oil nations and loads of representatives of oil companies there and they basically dropped the ball.

Mary McHarg  0:28  
How do we meaningfully engage young people and students in this? How do we make sure their voices are actually listened to and considered.

Mark Maslin  0:40  
This is generation one from University College London, turning climate science and ideas into action.

And I'm Professor Mark Maslin, and I've just been made joint Pro-vice Provost of the UCL Climate Crisis Grand Challenge. I'm joined by Simon Chin-Yee who was out in Dubai with me at COP28. And just reminder, Simon, why were you there? 

Simon Chin-Yee  1:12  
Hi there Mark. Yes, I'm Simon Chin-Yee. I'm in the political sciences department here at UCL and I go out to these cops because I'm liaising with our member states and working with our partner organisations to look at decarbonizing different sectors. 

Mark Maslin  1:26  
Well Simon, we're on the other side, we're back from Dubai, we're both exhausted. So how do you feel that this cop compares with other cops say, Egypt from last year? 

Simon Chin-Yee  1:39  
Yeah so people keep asking me this question of how these cops stack up against each other. And I, I start with the negative here when it comes to cop 28 in Dubai, and that's that it was kind of the worst cop I've ever been to in terms of action. And that reason is marked is that there's so much talk in the first week of oil and fossil fuels, it really kind of dominated part of the discussion where we should really have been focusing on how we're going to phase out how we're going to reduce our use of fossil fuels, not that we should be keeping using them, which amazingly, was part of the negotiations themselves, saying that there were positives that came out of cop as well, I think that we can go into the details about the fact that there was a loss and damage fund on the very first day that was agreed upon by Member States. That's a win, for example. But then again, how much money is in that loss and damage fund. And the last time we talked Mark, we discussed the fact that there was zero in the bank when it comes to loss and damage fund. Now, as of after two weeks of negotiating, there is 700 million US dollars in this fund,

Mark Maslin  2:50  
which of course Simon sounds a lot, but it's nowhere near the $400 billion that is actually been estimated, we will need to help least developed and developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change. And to put it in context. Okay, we were in the expo centre. And this had basically been built by the United Arab Emirates, for cost of about 7 billion US dollars. Admittedly, it ran for six months and was used for a cop. But that is a huge amount of money. And we have a piddling 700 million. And for me, the thing that really sticks in my throat is also it's going to be run by the World Bank, who are going to charge a fee of 24%. So that means in that small piddly amount of money, one in $4 is going to the bank and not going to the countries that really need it. 

Simon Chin-Yee  3:47  
And that's really pivotal because before the cop started, that was already a sticking point for many countries that can withdraw from this fund or should be able to withdraw from this fun, although we still don't quite know who and what kind of projects will be funded by the loss and damage. So while I was at COP 28, I ran into Dr. Guy Jackson from Northumbria University. And I asked him about very specifics on countries he works with on loss and damage. And here's what he had to say

Guy Jackson  4:15  
Loss and damage is probably at least from the original text. Most people were sort of tentatively happy with how it was presented. It's nothing sort of really radical. It's but there are key points there. So, you know, reference to indigenous communities, particularly vulnerable countries. There has been some tensions, which is sort of more typical COP Affair about language about who can access certain funds, for example, the GSD indicators, what is actually measuring recording loss and damage look like? So these are the sorts of things that they've been trying to negotiate and make sure it's happy for developing country parties. Just on related to this, there has been a big fight over this again access. So some parties have been wanting to minimise who would get access to loss and damage funding so only particularly vulnerable countries, whereas others have been going back to the Paris text, which says developing countries, which then would open it up to the g7 seven. So one of the things that I've noticed is that old tension is back in the room in relation to loss and damage, but also in relation to adaptation, and just finance more generally. 

Mark Maslin  5:16  
So that was Guy Jackson talking. And it's clear that there are some parts of loss and damage that the countries are pleased with. But actually, we just need a lot more details about how it's actually going to work and operate on a day to day basis.

Simon Chin-Yee  5:32  
But the fact that we have now agreed that the World Bank will host the fund, apparently, they're having meetings in January to discuss how this will work. That's very quick after cop. So that could be positive. But the fact that 24% of the fund will go to the Secretariat to for their administrative costs, it makes zero sense to most of us.

Mark Maslin  5:55  
I think, also people don't get the scale of cop 28. So there's been about a over 100,000 people were registered, I have to say, the site of both the blue zone and the Green Zone was so huge, never felt crowded, just because it was so big. But again, 2000 of those delegates were official representatives of oil and gas. And the problem was I got excited because all the talk was on phase down, or phase out of fossil fuels. And I think that the President himself had actually fed into this expectation. And then when the first draft text came out, Oh, my word, were we disappointed.

Simon Chin-Yee  6:40  
And let's remind ourselves that Sultan Al Jabbar, the president of COP, is also the CEO of Abu Dhabi's national oil company. And he was conducting bilateral meetings on fossil fuels at the same time, as the climate conference was going on, which is insane. But I'll just add on that, that the fact that we had Al Jabbar president of COP, he was going to make sure that something came out of the cup itself. He wanted an agreement, he wanted something to come out what came out, do you think Mark at the end? Is it successful for him?

Mark Maslin  7:19  
So what's really interesting is that there was a real mixed reaction in the press and with experts, because the first draft was so weak, it was unbelievable, but the actual negotiators spent two nights negotiating. And we get this final text now really out. And it says, transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just orderly and equitable manner, accelerating actions in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050. In keeping with the science, now, that's not phase out or phase down. But this is the first time that fossil fuels all fossil fuels are in a climate agreement. It basically says we're going to transition away from them, which many people have heralded. This is the first time that we had said that fossil fuels are causing climate change, and they will end. So people have said this is the beginning of the end of fossil fuels. But it's transitioning from the energy system. And so that Weasley words give some get out. We also know that in the main text, it talks about unabated and abated now, for people that don't get the technical terminology. Guess what, unabated means that you burn coal and co2 goes into the atmosphere. But abated coal means that you burn the coal, get the energy, but you capture the co2, and somehow transported and stored and hopefully it's in the ground and never comes back. And so the fossil fuel countries and companies are giving themselves an out which we can still use fossil fuels, as long as we capture the carbon and the pollution that it creates. So people have had really mixed reactions to the statement.

Simon Chin-Yee  9:16  
The other thing we have to really keep in mind of what was taking place over those two week period was the global stock take. Actually, it's been taking place for the past six years. And this is the increase in pledges by countries to see if we are going to solve this crisis that is climate change. And the biggest takeaway from this entire cop was that we haven't we are nowhere near limiting global warming to the 1.5 degrees as set out in Paris eight years ago now.

Mark Maslin  9:47  
So Simon, that means that the stock take says we're not doing very well at all. We're nowhere near the 1.5 degree target. But then we have this week statement that comes out of this cop says we will transition away from fossil fuels. Where is it seems to stop take is the evidence that the countries have put together themselves that says we need radical change? And I'd say some of the countries were very, very cross by the actual text. I think you picked up on some of this. 

Simon Chin-Yee  10:21  
So this is a just at the end of COP, you had a statement that came out of Samoa, who is the head of AOSIS, the alliance of small island states condemning the fact that this text was weak, and that we need real transformational change in order to solve the crisis. I really liked what they what he said, actually, is that what we have at the end of this text is incremental change. And that's not going to solve the climate crisis. And that is putting a lot of countries specifically those Pacific islands, of which Samoa is one at risk.

Mark Maslin  10:53  
Well, one of the things that struck me was the number of both indigenous people and youth. And they seem to be everywhere, which was fantastic. And the penultimate day, I and other colleagues were in the people's Summit. And this is one hour where young people stood up for three to four minutes, and basically told the world how it was. And I have to say, each one of them got a standing ovation, I really wish I could be that eloquent. And I had tears in my eyes at least two or three times during that session, it was great to see that youth energy and the anger. And I have to say we were also very fortunate because we had our own student from UCL Mary McHarg who's the union affairs officer, and she was there.

Mary McHarg  11:43  
There are so many incredible young leaders across the world, who were there at COP talking about everything from how climate change is affecting their daily lives, their daily communities, their homes, to the intersections it has with education, with health, with finance with cities, and it was fascinating. Yeah, the best talks and panels and discussions I went to what really they were the ones with young people right at the centre, where it was really clear that a lot of thought had gone into how do we meaningfully engage young people and students in this, how do we make sure their voices actually listened to and considered as an example, I went to an amazing one held by the Australian pavilion, which was initiative where they made a network of young activists and artists and writers from not only Australia, but also various island nations in the Pacific. And like, let them work together on a big creative journal together. And that you had a panel full of the people that contributed to that. And it was just so inspiring to see a panel organised entirely by young people young creatives about the climate crisis talking about what matters to them on such a global stage.

Simon Chin-Yee  13:06  
I completely agree with what Mary's saying. And the other thing about these cops, especially this particular one, I kept many meeting people who were there for the very first time, and one of those people happened to be my student from 10 years ago, in Morocco, Dr. Nada Berrada, who is the coordinator for youth and climate and workforce at EDC.

Nada Berrada  13:27  
As an institution EDC has recently launched a Climate Initiative, which is to help advance young people into the green economy, right? As we imagine greener futures, we need skills to be able to do that we need of course, the engineers and you know, the people who are going to work in renewable energy and waste management sectors, but we also need to green people who maybe don't necessarily we can green sectors, how can a hairdresser for example, green, their businesses etc. And as we were talking about this, it's more than you know, needing sustainability managers is needing people that are really able to relearn and learn new and different skills. So EDC has been leading a couple of different side events and panels as well as closed, you know, conversations with different stakeholders around how can we put skilling on the map of, of climate? 

Simon Chin-Yee  14:20  
it's great that all of these young people, youth activist, indigenous communities are there, their voices getting louder, the voices being heard, and and all of those impassioned speeches that we listened to the people summit were fantastic. It was really emotional. My massive problem with this and it's what happens every single cop is those voices that emotion does not get translated into the actual negotiations themselves.

Mark Maslin  14:44  
Which for me is really strange because the presence of COP actually supported financially 100 youth from countries around the world to be there, but then they don't actually have any access to the negotiaters or the people who really matter. 

UCL Minds  15:03  
You're listening to UCL generation one, turning science and ideas into climate action.

Mark Maslin  15:08  
But I'm gonna sidestep here because there are some other things going on underneath. I mean, one of the things that was technical, but for me quite interesting is that there was 118 countries that signed a pledge to triple renewable energy capacity, and double the global rate of energy efficiency by 2030. Now, this is the steps in the right direction. And again, this is essential if we're going to transition away from fossil fuels. But I think talking to you, Simon, you notice that there are these transitional fuels, and also hydrogen reared its head at COP. 

Simon Chin-Yee  15:08  
One of the things that was more positive that came out of COP is actually the discussion around whatever these transitional fuels would be, whether it'd be wind, solar, geothermal, hydrogen, ammonia, green, ammonia, all of these conversations around them were happening sort of on the sidelines of COP itself. But that actually is really keen, really important. And I think something that could be seen as a very positive outcome coming out of this cop was the dialogue around green hydrogen. And that is because the use of these different types of transitional or Clean Energy Fuels is really key in its very specific sectors and industries. I think this discussion around green fuels was actually quite positive in the idea that we can actually move and transition despite what's happening in the negotiations themselves.

Mark Maslin  16:45  
And this is why I love COP because the major outcomes may be weak, but underneath everybody is literally running to try to actually change the world. And I know that you've been working really hard on the marine sector, was there any success there in the marine because it's been doing really well. 

Simon Chin-Yee  17:05  
So at this particular cop, over 80 side events were focused on the maritime sector, that is unprecedented. So the dialogue around it, it's not all positive news mark, there's a lot of business as usual talk as well at these in these spaces. But at least there is a push. That is one of the things I am trying to do here at UCL, which is get the shipping industry actually noticed in the wider United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dialogues that we have out there because it has flown under sailed under the radar. For far too long. And this year, the reason that it has gotten such a big push is that in July of this year here in London and Vauxhall, at the International Maritime Organisation, they released a really important strategy, their strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have targets that 2030 2040. So this is the sort of thing that happens at COP, I was in the high level ministerial on maritime, that's the IMO negotiations happening in parallel to what else is happening in the climate dialogue. And so I'm hopeful that countries can take that those negotiations themselves and actually move policy and turn policy into actual action, especially if we have both industry, meaning the shipping sector, but also the people that are creating these new green fuels at the table, and they were there. And one of our partner organisations is the United Nations Foundation. And I put on an event with the amazing Kerrlene Wills, and I got a chance to talk to her about shipping at COP.

Kerrlene Wills  18:49  
I do think it's important to have a discussion on the international maritime industry at COP because if shipping were a country, it would be the eighth largest emitter in the world. So if we're going to talk about achieving 1.5, and reducing global emissions, we need to talk about the global shipping industry. One of the big things that we're trying to do with the United Nations Foundation is increased the voice of small island states in the discussion, you know, the just an equitable transition is a major part of the new strategy and levelling the playing field. So I do think that, you know, with the work that we've been doing, we've been able to say, to have Pacific countries be present. And we're really working right now to expand that into the Caribbean and have more Caribbean since be become present. And then also with the work that we're doing with you so I'm in to have Africa be a voice in those negotiations as well. I think that you know, as developing countries and as SIDS they all have and climate vulnerable countries. We all have skin in the game to kind of you know, make sure that shipping does reduce emissions, it doesn't have harmful or disproportionate negative impacts on states. So that's also going to incorporate private sector, it's going to incorporate investments from multilateral development bank's, it's also going to incorporate having more voices from fuel makers, because if you don't have the fuel, you can't decarbonize the industry. So there's a lot of different pieces that need to come together to make this happen. 

Mark Maslin  20:25  
So I think it's incredible sort of the progress that's been made in many sectors, like the marine sector, but the for me, one of the most disappointing thing was having all the oil nations and loads of representatives of oil companies there. And the basically dropped the ball, they had a really golden opportunity to show themselves as heroes. And this came about from the oil and gas, decarbonisation charter. So the key thing is, this is about stopping all of that methane leakage that happens when you actually produce oil and gas. But it's also about flaring, and basically burning off the waste gas, all of which this charter says that they're going to stop by 2030, which is great. But they had this huge announcement saying, Hey, 50, national and international oil companies are doing this, which represents only 40% of the global production. So the problem here is, that's great, but it means that 60% of the world's oil and gas production is still going to just release the methane going to burn gas, excess gas from flaring. And the problem is that it's that methane, that's most problematic, because it's a very powerful greenhouse gas, and it's a quick win. So again, for me, it was like it was a lost opportunity. It, it sounded like it was a great thing. But yes, 60% of the world doesn't care.

Simon Chin-Yee  21:57  
Yeah. Why? Why is that? Why don't why are they not taking this easy win Mark?

Mark Maslin  22:01  
Oh because it costs money. And so therefore, countries like Iran, or Iraq, Russia, basically really don't care. I mean, I'll give you an example. There is a huge oil and gas facility in Kazakhstan. And we have satellites that can see all the methane leakage. And the calculation is the amount of methane leaked in one year is the same as us running a million petrol cars in Europe for a year. These are really quick wins. But as they said, Yes, we'll fix the leaks. If someone pays us, it's all about the money.

Simon Chin-Yee  22:42  
And that's the other amazing thing that came out of this cop was this discussion around green ammonia. Because the discussion of green ammonia as a as a green fuel has been around for a decade, people here at UCL have been working on this for ages, but it has been ignored by the big oil companies. Why? Because it's expensive. But it's only expensive in that initial output. It's true, it is more expensive. But once you have the green ammonia distilled down to its form, it's actually much cheaper. One thing that actually happened outside of the cop space was this ship, called the Green pioneer, the green pioneer, is an ammonia run ship. Now, it's not quite there yet, because the Dubai port cannot host green ammonia. But it did travel from Singapore where they can to cop 28 and Dubai, it took 17 days. And it was there to showcase the fact that green ammonia can be used as a fuel in the shipping industry to be part of that solution to towards net zero. Now, it's not the only solution. But what we see what we saw in that ship is a very technical expertise being used in order to solve a very big problem. What I take heart with in the work we do here is that even though climate change as a massive, massive global problem, basically when we go to these cops, we're looking at how we can save the planet can actually be distilled down again into some very technical details, where you can look to see what actually can happen on a very specific ship that can be part of the solution. 

Mark Maslin  24:19  
I think that's the excitement. At the moment. We have a global economy that run on 19th and 20th century technology, basically fossil fuels. And when you actually look at the 21st century technology, the electricity, the ships, the all the possibilities, I don't understand why we're thinking still in the past, and we're not embracing all this incredible new technology and pushing forward into the future. I mean, for me, one of the biggest facts that I learned recently is that if we move everything we can, away from fossil fuels, to electricity, you know, are heating and cooking all the industries that can move over, we save 40% of our energy, because guess what electricity is much, much more efficient than burning stuff. And this should be the new bright future. And I don't understand how we acts really excelling, taking technology like phones and things like that. But when it comes to changing the energy system and making it better for everybody, all the vested interests start to get there and start to lobby and start to try to slow down our progress.

Simon Chin-Yee  25:38  
Well, I mean, it's an obvious one there. I mean, we they it's because the industry is lobbying itself to make sure that their bottom line their industry survives this. And what they could be doing is taking those these new initiatives and running with it, and to be honest, making billions in the meantime, but they seem to be stuck in the past on being able to preserve their fossilised industries.

Mark Maslin  26:02  
This is because we're in a petrochemical stage, you know, the United Arab Emirates, but it gets even better, isn't it? Simon? Because where are we going next year?

Simon Chin-Yee  26:12  
Yes, another petrochemical state. Mark, why don't we go on to the next one, which is Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan? Apparently, that is where cop 29 will take place? How do you feel about that?

Mark Maslin  26:23  
I don't think they have a really good record of human rights. I believe there are some issues, and there's a huge influence of Russia on that country. So it feels like we're going to have another fight on our hands. Given all the things that we've just talked about, with the positives and negatives of cop 28. Do you feel that cops still have value again, because we're always so negative about them.

Simon Chin-Yee  26:52  
and we should be negative about them, we need to be really critical about what's happening with these cops, it's really important. And we will continue to do so. But I think you need to put these cops in a wider, maybe longer term context, much like climate change itself. And that is because if we look at the individual cops, they can seem like they are not living up to expectations. But the wider scheme of things. Eight years ago in Paris, we were on track for four degree warming minimum. Now we're nearing three. Now, as we've said before, Mark, this is nowhere near enough we need to increase ambition. But if we had said 10 years ago, two things first is that we were we would be able to limit warming to this degree, then we weren't there. Right. And the second is the incredible advancement of technologies in renewables, solar 10 years ago was incredibly expensive. It's not anymore. It's cheap. So if you look at what's happening globally, and individually in countries, there is success on a wider scale, perhaps not enough. But we need to, we need to think about in the wider scope of things. I think these cops are individual, but they're part of a bigger process. 

Mark Maslin  28:04  
I have to say my take away is we were in the heart of the oil and gas country, we had a CEO of a oil company in charge of carp. And what we came out with is a statement that says we are transitioning away from fossil fuels. Huge if you think about it, because what it says is, really, this is the beginning of the end of fossil fuels now, not quick enough, and we need to speed it up. And we need to actually ratchet it up. But we were in the heart of the enemy. And we got a statement that says the enemy is going to die. So on that dramatic note or finality for me, I think it's now time to wrap it up. Don't you think Simon?

Simon Chin-Yee  28:55  
I think that's probably a good idea.

Well, that's it for this episode of generation one from UCL turning climate science and ideas into action. We're taking a short break over the holidays, but we'll be back in the new year with more climate change conversations. If you'd like to ask a question or suggest a guest that you'd like to hear on generation one, you can email us at podcasts@ucl.ac.uk otherwise, for more information about UCL is work and the climate space and what our staff and students as well as our researchers are doing to make a more sustainable future. Head to the UCL generation one website or follow us on social media hashtag UCL generation one