Climate Change


COP28: What needs to happen?

Welcome back to UCL Generation One: The Climate Podcast. We're back for series 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  0:09  
The fact that cop 28 is taking place in Dubai, which is not only in the Middle East, but a massive oil producing nation, it's going to rear its head, it just is. 

Mark Maslin  0:20  
This is where we at, we need to do better. You're getting a D on your report card.

Mary McHarg  0:26  
There are lots of other effects of climate change that are more subtle and less talked about eco anxiety is a massive one.

Mark Maslin  0:36  
This is generation one from University College London, turning climate science and ideas into action. Welcome back to UCL generation one podcast. I'm Mark Maslin, Professor of Earth System Science here at UCL. And you're gonna say what does that mean? Well, I study climate change in the past, the present and the future. And I'm very excited because I have a new co host, Dr. Simon Chin-Yee Simon. We're excited about COP28. So do you want to introduce yourself?

Simon Chin-Yee  1:14  
Yeah, thanks, Mark. Yeah, my name is Simon Chin-Yee. I'm a lecturer in Development Studies in the Political Sciences department here at UCL. And I've been looking at climate governance for over a decade now. And I've been attending these cops for around nine years at the moment.

Mark Maslin  1:29  
Well, I have to say, Simon, I think you've been to a lot more cops than me, how many have you actually been to? 

Simon Chin-Yee  1:35  
I counted the other day, and we have come up to nine because we missed that pandemic year. So.

Mark Maslin  1:42  
So you're the expert. That's brilliant. What I thought I'd do to start off with because I think people really don't understand where we've got to with cop. So let's start two years ago were in Glasgow COP26. And what came out of the Glasgow climate pact was really forward thinking, firstly, there was a declaration that we would reduce emissions by 45%. By 2030, as only in seven years time, there was strong support for the one and a half degree climate target. And for the first time ever, there was the phrase phasing down of coal and the removal of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Now the strange thing is, this is the first time fossil fuels were ever mentioned in a climate international agreement. The only problem is because as we know, those pledges that countries made, don't go anywhere near one and a half degrees, they're probably about 2.4 to 2.8. And then, of course, we took that away and we went to Egypt. What went wrong at COP 27 Simon?

Simon Chin-Yee  2:51  
Well, if we started with ended on cop26, it ended with the room squabbling between between China, the US, the EU was a big blocker of this thing that would eventually come out of Sharm el Sheikh called the loss and damage fund. So there at least what happened at the end of Sharm el Sheikh and cop27 was the agreement that this fund would be put in place, which we can talk about in a bit. However, why did it fail? So many reasons why it failed Mark.

Mark Maslin  3:21  
I know I was there, I was there. We were so frustrated with it. 

Simon Chin-Yee  3:25  
But also just with the lack of progress in the in the room, I would say this is the thing that we have to understand why that there was lack of progress. We didn't get any new pledges for example. One of the reasons was global geopolitics. Of course, COP27 had been overshadowed by the war in the Ukraine. So even though the countries themselves weren't specifically bringing up the fact that there was a war in the Ukraine, all of those governments there was strained pipeline supplies, gas, many of these national governments were looking to bolster their national, domestic fossil fuel reserves. So this meant that those oil producing nations at COP 27 had a lot more power than they normally do. Because all of these world leaders and ministers were confronted with their domestic need for energy that was now being drained because of the Ukraine. 

Mark Maslin  4:20  
So do you think that the conflict in the Middle East is going to have a similar effect on cop28?

Simon Chin-Yee  4:28  
I mean, the fact that cop 28 is taking place in Dubai, which is not only in the Middle East, but a massive oil producing nation, it's going to rear its head, it just is.

Mark Maslin  4:39  
So what else failed in Egypt.

Simon Chin-Yee  4:42  
So the second is simply the timing actually, when and how a cop takes place actually matters. For example, in the first week of the climate conference, it was the US midterm elections so everything is focused there. We too coincided with the G20. Summit in Bali, so further attention was diverted to that And then on the very final days when they were announcing a loss and damage happened to coincide with the first day of the Qatar World Cup,

Mark Maslin  5:07  
which meant none of us were actually watching climate change we were all watching the football. 

Simon Chin-Yee  5:11  
So yeah, in spite of the fact that 50,000 people attended COP27, which at that point was a record, we'll see what happens in Dubai, but also not just when it was, but where it was matters. Mark, what was the problem with it being held in Sharm el Sheikh?

Mark Maslin  5:29  
Oh, well, you and I were driving in taxis basically seeing armed guards with massive machine guns every mile along the road. I mean, we were at a conference in a military dictatorship, there was no protests allowed, it was just very oppressive. So I'm really interested I mean, the estimation from the UN is that they could be up to 70,000 people attending the Dubai COP28. So it's going to be a very different vibe, I think a very different, much more business orientated, I'm going to come back to this and remember the elephant in the room, as you know, with COP28 in Dubai, the President of COP28 is also the head and the CEO of the Abu Dhabi national oil company. So any point with that, Simon?

Simon Chin-Yee  6:22  
Well, I mean, where to start with that, obviously, is massively problematic, having the president of a COP, being also the CEO of a massive oil and gas company in the Middle East. And this also brings up the point of what matters in terms of leadership at COP. And that's something that we also saw lacking in Sharm el Sheikh, because the cop president there seem to want to let the countries push the agendas themselves, as opposed to having being pushed along by the COP presidents like we saw, for example, at COP 26.

Mark Maslin  6:57  
I mean, so for me, I think what people don't realise is that the whole cop process is 365 days, a year. I mean, it is constantly negotiations. There are midterm discussions, always in Bonn, usually in June. And actually the country that's taking over has a huge role. So for example, why did we get an incredible Paris Agreement? It's because the French spent 12 months engaging with 196 countries trying to work out how to actually support different viewpoints, at the same time, get to that incredible decision in 2015, which basically said, we the leaders of the world will keep the temperature to two degrees, with an aspirational target of just one and a half degrees. And this was celebrated all around the world, and created the whole view of net zero, which is, guess what, we're not just going to cut emissions, we're actually going to get to net zero, all of us sometime this century. So it's that leadership.

Simon Chin-Yee  8:05  
I may, just because it's so important. And understanding that specific example is the French presidency learned from the mistakes of the past, they learned from what happened in Copenhagen. Copenhagen was six years earlier, it was an utter disaster. And one of the reasons was the representation in the room, and how they were doing so. Under Kyoto, what you had as a top down vision of how you were going to solve the climate crisis, which they didn't, which was basically said, all of the countries, all of you only developed countries go away and achieve these targets. They never made that understanding that the French COP presidency, took this and went for more of a bottom up approach, which meant that it went to all of the countries, all 198 countries and said, Now you all go away and tell us what your pledges are going to be. Now, as we know, as of 2023, the pledges are still not high enough to keep global warming to the 1.5 degree target as set out in Paris. 

Mark Maslin  8:59  
So Simon I mean, one of the things that I observed about Paris was the involvement of the small island nations allied with Europe, really pushing the agenda and that seemed to really help the geopolitics. But I'm curious, why do we have the certain locations for COP? Why Paris? Why now Dubai?

Simon Chin-Yee  9:20  
So what they tried to do in these processes is have it region by region. So the one couple would be in Latin America and the Caribbean. The next will be in Europe. Next will be in Africa. The next will be in Asia Pacific. And this happens to be the turn of the Middle East. So this is why we have it in Dubai, first of all, the Second of all is is what countries can host it. There's a reason why every five years, there's a COP in Poland. It's because it's the only country in Eastern Europe that wants to and can afford to put on these multimillion dollar conferences. Dubai can afford it and they want the prestige and they're doing that really well. They've been promoting themselves as a well oiled machine very well over the past year. 

Mark Maslin  10:06  
How are they going to get the agreement? Because again, the prestige comes from hosting it. Well, how are they going to do this when their president has said that they, the United Arab Emirates are going to double their oil and gas production? By 2030? How are they going to square that circle?

Simon Chin-Yee  10:24  
Well, are they? I mean, that's the big question, right? We don't know that they are, we don't know what's going to come out of COP28 yet, right. So if they come up with an actual structured, loss and damage, finance mechanism out of this, they will use that as a win. 

Mark Maslin  10:40  
So Simon, it seems like Dubai really is going to be focused on loss and damage, because it seems to be the only win that came out of Sharm El Sheikh, that they can actually get to want to explain to us what is loss and damage and why is it so important? 

Simon Chin-Yee  10:57  
So first, I'll say the win will be if states actually come with new pledges. There's still time for that to happen. Mark, there's still time. But you know, I'm

Mark Maslin  11:05  
hoping I'm hoping I'm hoping, you know, I've got everything crossed. But

Simon Chin-Yee  11:08  
in terms of loss and damage, I think the first thing that people need to know is that this is it sounds like it's a new thing, a new thing that they've been talking about for two to five years, they've been talking about it for over 30 years. For many loss and damages refers to this that refers to those negative climate impacts that we as an international community have not prevented or chosen not to prevent through mitigation or accommodation through adaptation measures. That's what loss and damages is the reason that the small island states that mark you brought up and that I work with and are very dear to my heart are clamouring from the rooftops about a fund on this but also about also action on climate change itself is that they are at the very front lines of climate change, right? The countries like Vanuatu, Kiribati ,Tonga, in the Pacific, they are the ones that could potentially disappear. And that is something that we really something that a fund on loss and damage could address. So if what we can do in Dubai in this loss and damage fund is to figure out all those countries led by the Dubai president, if that President can figure out a way how this fund will be structured and governed. That is the first thing that we need to know, it's a debate still out there countries are going to argue about this for the two weeks over COP period, I promise you,

Mark Maslin  12:24  
we're not even sure who's going to run it. I mean, again, at first there was suggesting the World Bank, but hey, the World Bank had a climate change denier in charge. And of course, many least developed and developing countries really don't trust the World Bank, would you?

Simon Chin-Yee  12:40  
Well, technically Mark that one of my consortium members, so I have to trust them a little bit. But at the same time, you're right. And one of the things that kept that has come up stridently recently was because we were talking about the World Bank housing it is what percentage of that fund the World Bank would take for administrative costs, and it was astronomical.

Mark Maslin  13:00  
So we like the World Bank, because they're supporting you. But they need to actually reduce their costs down to a bare 1% or less otherwise is going to be a huge loss to the fund. 

Unknown Speaker  13:15  
You're listening to UCL generation one, turning science and ideas into climate action.

Simon Chin-Yee  13:23  
So the other issue market that we're going to be looking at Dubai, and we've been looking at all year, actually is the global stocktake. Do you want to define what the global stocktake is, and kind of situate where we are right now, in terms of pledges.

Mark Maslin  13:37  
The global stocktake comes out of the Paris Agreement, and it is the halfway point where we sit down and literally look at the numbers, we look at what a country is doing, how much are they emitting. And actually, I have to say the numbers aren't that good, because if we look at 2022, it was the most greenhouse gases that we've ever emitted in human history. And so that doesn't look good. But there are lots of changes that are occurring. And we're seeing that some countries are decarbonizing much quicker than we expected, and some are not decarbonizing at all. So, the global stocktake is where are we? Which NDCs are being followed. And these are the pledges that the countries make to change and to reduce their emissions. And so therefore, it's a way of actually looking at the globe, looking at our missions and then starting to ratchet down on particular countries going Come on, guys, you need to keep up. The problem is that if we look at the pledges that were made at COP26, in Glasgow, and the problem is, as you said, there were very few new pledges made in Egypt and at the moment none made for COP28. We're looking at perhaps 2.4 to two point eight degrees warming. So we're nowhere near the 1.5. So this is a way of actually saying, what is the globe doing? What are individual countries doing? This is the stocktake. How do we do the next half? How do we actually encourage countries. And so it's a really important line in the sand. I know we're in Dubai line in the sand that says, Look, this is where we at, we need to do better, you're getting a D on your report card. 

Simon Chin-Yee  15:25  
And that's something actually that we can bring up some of my work here at UCL with an amazing team of people that are trying to forward this and push countries to be more ambitious, to move faster. As you know, I work a lot in the shipping industry, the shipping industry has flown under the radar when it comes to climate change action. And so it's being noticed, and it's starting to be talked about in these larger, wider UNFCCC climate dialogues. This is positive, but we need to understand that shipping, for example, would argue that they are a low emission sector that doesn't produce enough to warrant cutting it. But we also know that it's 3% of all emissions come from the shipping sector that's larger than Germany, it would be in the top 10 countries of emitters if it was a country.

Mark Maslin  16:13  
the biggest problem for me is that we're doing all this incredible stuff. We have all this credible tech, it's just it's not happening quick enough. And I think that's something that people lightly feel frustrated about.

Simon Chin-Yee  16:25  
So Mark at UCL, we're doing lots of great work in and around in all these various different departments is working towards cop 28, or work on climate change itself. You're leading the delegation from UCL to COP28, this year, who's going?

Mark Maslin  16:40  
I've been very lucky, I've been the head of the UCL delegation for the last two cops, I'm going to be there at COP 28. And what's amazing is we're sending lawyers, engineers, policymakers, scientists, social scientists, we have real expertise going there. And it's because each of the days is themed. So there's going to be a health day where all of the incredible people working on the lancet countdown will be there. What do you be doing now I'm curious, because you're always there, you're in the thick of things. How much are you going to be doing that?

Simon Chin-Yee  17:15  
So much like many of my colleagues here at UCL are many academics? I guess it's a really good question. Why are they there at all, even though these climate conferences are a circus, it has everybody there, which means I have my five member states that I'm working with that will be there. And they're the policymakers on climate so they can be in the room with my consortium member the World Bank, as I mentioned earlier, will be there, the global maritime forum, UCL opportunity, green civil society groups, they're all there and present, and we'll be able to participate and network at these COPS, they're really important. And the last thing I'll mention is that we need to promote the science, right? We are the scientists, so the researchers, the academics, we are there to promote, not just the science, but good practice. And that's how we can do it at these cops because there are people that are there that will listen. 

Mark Maslin  18:03  
And I think that's a such an important thing to actually mention, because so many of our colleagues and people out in the wider world go, these COPS are a waste of time, they don't come up with anything. But for me, it's a place where 198 countries all come together with international organisations like the World Bank, the World Food organisation, etc, they all come together, we know that they're going to be there, and lots of dialogue actually happens. And also the most important thing is those countries are there on an equal basis. And therefore, so much can actually be done to actually engage and actually have lots of dialogues. Some of it's not even about climate change and the environment, they're there to do business to actually get these agreements sorted. But I'm also excited because we have Mary McHarg, the elected student union affairs officer, who's also going to COP28. And this is what she said to us earlier. 

Speaker 1  18:59  
It's my first time ever attending a cop. It's also the first time that UCL is sending a student representative with their academics and researchers. So no pressure on me whatsoever. I've got lots of things I'm hoping to do. But chief among them is obviously to listen to some of the policymakers and maybe even the world leaders who will be in attendance, find out what their plans are to combat climate change, and hopefully be able to question them about how ambitious they're being about meeting these goals. There's a nonzero chance some famous faces might be in attendance, which is always fun. For many of our students climate change, like is directly affecting them and their lives, where they live and where they call home. But also there are lots of other effects of climate change that are more subtle and less talked about eco anxiety is a massive one that I want to be able to hopefully talk about a little bit so yeah, I'm super excited.

Mark Maslin  19:51  
So Mary, our union affairs officer makes a really interesting point, which is about climate anxiety and I I think it's really important, we have to step back and acknowledge that because lots of colleagues, lots of young people are suffering from this. And I want to ask you, Simon, do you have any ways of actually dealing with that? Because I know you suffer like I do. How do you try and deal with that?

Simon Chin-Yee  20:15  
I think the big thing that we can do was talk about it, right? We can talk about climate anxiety, but we can also talk about action. And that can reduce anxiety. I absolutely understand Mary's Point, anxiety around climate change is really prevalent in the a lot of the youth of today. And I'm not talking about university levels, students, I'm talking about 12 year olds, 13 year olds, they know about this, they've never not known about climate change. It's been their whole lives. And so understanding that is really important. And I think also, not just that Mary is present, but that there'll be lots of other youth from all over the world present. Because one of the arguments that has been said over these COPS over the years is that youth voice is lost. It's lost in the actual negotiations. 

Mark Maslin  21:00  
I mean, for me, the great thing is in the blue zone, and that's where all the pavilions are. And all the negotiators are those two pavilions that I think are incredibly important. First is the youth pavilion, where that youth voice is basically allowed to actually ring around the actual conference, and also the indigenous peoples pavilion, both are incredibly important, because those are the voices we should be listening to. Because again, they're protecting the biodiversity of the world, but they're also the future of the world. And so for me, climate anxiety, I can get through it or work through it, because I'm engaging with those sort of people. I'm engaging with people like you, Simon, who was so positive, who are doing really important work. And when we go to COP, there are so many people there, who are actually making a difference in the world, if I could literally grab all their stories and actually give those to people just to show them that there is hope there is action happening, not quick enough, but it's happening.

Simon Chin-Yee  22:03  
So we're on the cusp of COP28. And I guess what we should end with here, Mark is to think about who's going to be there and what we should be all looking out for at a conference in Dubai?

Mark Maslin  22:13  
Well, for me, what I really want is the world leaders to actually attend. We've seen this in previous COPS when they turn up, the pressure is on to get a negotiated outcome. And I think also that will provide a real impetus with Dubai, to push everybody to to get an agreement, because if you have the world leaders turning up, you have to get something out of it. We know that China and the US have already announced that they want to closer collaborations on climate change, whatever that means. But actually, the other thing is I'm going to be looking out for is are there any new pledges from countries? Are they going to be quicker to get to net zero? Second thing is methane, re there going to be any new agreements on methane because this is such a quick win. And as such a quick saving that it can buy us time. And in previous COPS, we've had proper announcements on that. And of course, we know that the media is incredibly shallow. And the focus on the cop meetings is never about the science, it's never about the challenge. It's always about who's there? Do we have any idea of anybody importance going? 

Simon Chin-Yee  23:26  
So every COP there are important people that go have different various different levels, you know, so if if King Charles, for example, goes to COP, because he has a he has an opponent of climate change of climate action, then that will that will make headlines right? If you have Greta Thunberg, who is a an amazing youth activist that also grabs lots of headlines. If she's going to be in attendance that will be that will be something to see as well, the media will be absolutely watching. There's something that could be said, for example, in Glasgow when this first day of week two is when Barack Obama showed up. We all were like why was that important? Why is Barack Obama he's no longer president of the United States. What's he doing here? But he's a major deal in the United States. He's a major deal globally. So what that did was actually put climate change back on the agenda in the United States, simply because he was president. And that was actually quite important for action in the United States at the time. 

Mark Maslin  24:22  
I mean, I'll have to say I was working for CNN at the time, in Glasgow, and it was the big moment where suddenly it could go on their main news programme. You know, it wasn't a niche issue. It was the bit of razzmatazz. And that's unfortunately true. These huge circuses, even though the negotiators are doing such incredibly important work. It's that razzmatazz, it's that sort of like showing off. It's those personalities that get the column inches in the newspapers as they used to say, or basically all the posts on social media and of course, the Elephant in the Room, which I'm going to pass back to you, which is, of course, loss and damage.

Simon Chin-Yee  25:05  
Not just loss and damage, finance in general, where is the money? That's something that climate X has been saying for ages and countries as well. Another problem over the past few years is this lack of trust that's been built between the global north and global south countries, unfortunately. And a lot of that has to do with these pledges there was in Copenhagen the one good thing that came out of it was a Green Climate Fund 100 billion was supposed to be in this fund, it's still not there. It's still not full. And then this loss and damage fund. We don't even know how it's gonna work. So we need to figure out how it's going to work and we have to really keep in mind that's right now, it is empty.

Mark Maslin  25:41  
So basically, we should finish on that famous catchphrase, show us the money, show me the money.

That's it for this episode of generation one from UCL. Turning climate science and ideas into action. We'll be busy in Dubai over the coming weeks, but look out for the next episode, a review of what happened at COP and what it means. That we'll be landing before the holidays, wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you'd like to ask a question or suggest a guest that you would like to hear on the generation one podcast, you can email us at podcasts@ucl.ac.uk. Otherwise, for more information about UCLs work in the climate space, and what our staff and students and researchers are doing to make sure we don't just talk the talk, but we walk the walk to a more sustainable future, head to the UCL generation one website, where you'll find lots of information about what you can do to reduce your personal carbon footprint. And also please remember follow us on social media - hashtag UCLGenerationOne. Remember Simon I will see you on the other side after COP28.