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Reflections on COP28

The dust has settled in Dubai and the buzz of COP28 has started to dim. What are the tangible outcomes? 

At the start of the month, heads of state, business and global finance met at COP28 for an intense two weeks of networking and negotiating, to keep 1.5 alive. 

The result is a large document of climate agreements, agreed actions and NDCs. They aim to accelerate the global transition to net zero and regenerate our planet’s resources; land, forests, oceans and biodiversity. 

For some, the outcome agreement signals the end of the fossil fuel era. For others, a ‘litany of loopholes’ with insufficient clarity on who pays for scaled deployment of climate solutions. 

Regardless, COP28 is a major step forward for the international climate community. 

Under Al Jaber’s presidency the world has committed to trebling renewable energy capacity by 2030, increasing investment into low carbon hydrogen, CCS and transition fuels, and channelling capital into energy efficiency. Over $700million was pledged to the loss and damage fund, supporting the most vulnerable states to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate. 

Alongside these lengthy international negotiations, COP28 was a hive of non-state activity. New business partnerships and novel collaborations began. The most promising climate solutions gained committed investment.  

Whilst ‘business as usual’ resumes, we asked leaders from the Blue Earth community about their COP28 highlights, lowlights, and general reflections… 

We feature reflections from John Elkington, Founder of Volans, Jamie Anderson, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions, Gail Gallie, Founder of Project17 and Co-Founder of Project Everyone, Fiona Morgan, Chief Purpose Officer, SailGP Markus Müller, Chief Investment officer ESG, Deutsche Bank AG and Will Hayler CEO and Co-Founder of our very own Blue Earth Summit.

In three words describe your COP28 experience. 

Serendipity on speed, with countless unexpected encounters with others in the field, known and unknown.” John Elkington, Founder and Chief Pollinator, Volans 

“Dislocating, Determined, Driving.” Gail Gallie, Founder at Project17, Co-Founder Project Everyone

“Shiny, sobering and bubbles.” Jamie Anderson, Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions Secretariat

Collaborative. Cautiously optimistic.” Fiona Morgan, Chief Purpose Officer, SailGP

“Stimulative, instructive and exhausting. Yes, these three are always the case for COP meetings. But the 80% rise in attendees compared to COP27 – and the associated rise in physical distances between stalls and events – really stretched my legs as well as my mind.” Markus Müller, Chief Investment officer ESG, Deutsche Bank AG

“Mind-blowing, realistic and hopeful. The scale of COP alongside some of the statements made were next level. We do need to be realistic on where we are on investment for viable alternatives. I am hopeful that the pathway is there for the solutions we need.” Will Hayler CEO Blue Earth Summit.

Share a standout moment from your time at COP28.

“Breaking out to visit Masdar City and an extraordinary experiment in saltwater agriculture, producing fish, samphire/Salicornia, and mangrove trees—the latter for animal fodder and timber.” John Elkington

“Every evening a growing group of us gathered around midnight to (illegally) swim in the ocean. It felt needed to renew ourselves after the day’s efforts, ready to face another one!” Gail Gallie

“Flying into Dubai for the first time and being overwhelmed by the scale of the City, its location, its shininess and the energy it must take to keep it functioning. Having always consciously avoided Dubai I was feeling pretty low before bumping into a delegation from the Amazonian Pankararu tribe in Arrivals. It shook me out of my pessimistic funk. Seeing the headdresses and tattoos amongst the baggage carousels, chatting to the group about their hopes for the conference reminded me of the point of COP. That its impact went beyond this desert playground and that its always better to be bringing people together to try and solve a problem than sulking because you don’t agree with the location or the Government hosting it.” Jamie Anderson

“SailGP set out to be the leading sports voice at COP28 and challenge other sports to embed climate action into their organisations. I feel immensely proud that together we showed up. The passion and commitment to purpose displayed by SailGP athletes across so many speaking engagements in the Blue and Green Zones was not just inspiring, they were a call to action for the wider sporting community. To be the leading sport at COP28 meant we needed to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I was blown away by the collaborative team effort from across the entire business to deliver a new benchmark for sustainable sporting events. This was brought to life by our Race For The Future takeover campaign broadcast to millions of people around the world.Fiona Morgan

“A talanoa-style dialogue I had with the Island Youth from Hawaii, Philippines, Palau and Samoa. It was impressive to listen to the Island Youth discuss their views and hear their take on challenges ahead. We’re still a disconnected world on many topics, but the discussion revealed much hope for the future.” Markus Müller

“Attending a very special evening with The Blue Marine Foundation, Deutsche Bank and Ocean14 Capital. We heard from US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry who emphasised the importance of our oceans. Covering 71% of the planet, producing half the oxygen we breathe. We are beginning to understand the central role that the oceans play for all life on earth.” Will Hayler

What’s your reaction to the global stocktake agreement? 

“A useful start. A global carbon census should have been done years ago.” John Elkington

“That it’s not perfect, or ambitious or concrete enough, but that it is better than not reaching an agreement.” Gail Gallie

“I have always liked the idea of having a stocktake. It’s vital to be able to judge the world’s climate trajectory on more than just the opinions of the current crop of politicians. Much like having told your parents that you have smashed it at school this year but when your evidencebased school report card arrives saying:Mostly tried hard’ or ‘Needs to stop messing around and concentrate‘ – it gives a measurable level of truth that even your parents can’t ignore.

“I was really pleased with the UK’s commitment of £11billion for the Dogger Bank offshore wind project. A public commitment to a project, with a figure and timeframe attached. I think the GST is good for that reason. It’s a set of actual figures. How have we actually done against our targets. Clearly it’s a minefield. But when those at the pointy end of climate impact such as the Alliance of Small Island States call it a “lifeline” it has to have value.” Jamie Anderson

“It might not have had the impact I hoped for, a commitment to phase out fossil fuels, but the agreement to ‘transition away’ from coal, oil and gas heralds a pivotal moment in our journey towards a better future. Whether the transition comes quickly enough remains to be seen, so we still have a lot of work to do. That’s why I left Dubai feeling more passionate and committed than ever to use the incredible power of sport to drive climate action and inclusivity.Fiona Morgan

“Very positive. The global stocktake agreement not only sets out the pathway to keep global temperature rises to no more than 2oC, but will also keep track of individual countries’ progress along this path.  We’ll see when things aren’t working and can according.” Markus Müller

“The global stock take is a positive endeavour. The days of green bashing need to be behind us now. The GST agreement is a realistic shift in narrative. We all know there is further to go. But by virtue of COP28’s location it was unlikely to be a ‘phase out’ year. To make a full phase out possible, energy leaders need to triple down on viable alternative to fossil fuels, this is happening.” Will Hayler

What does this mean for global business? What hope is there that this outcome might change economic priorities or the wider system? 

“Nothing radically new for leadership companies, but a sense of the economic paradigm shifting for those who haven’t been paying attention.” John Elkington

“I think if business was in any doubt that sustainability is and will increasingly be good for business (let alone the justice or environmental arguments), this COP should have settled any doubt. Green (and blue!) business is booming- people should get involved.” Gail Gallie

“I don’t think that GST will immediately change the direction of global business. If we have seen anything from the last two years it’s that business direction and public opinion is still based entirely around financial gain and cost. The increase in energy prices post Ukraine changed the direction of oil and gas companies and their focus on an energy transition, almost overnight. They simply couldn’t resist the huge profits and we the public couldn’t deal with the enormous increase in energy costs. So it went unchallenged. 

“I do think that GST will drive Governments to push for more renewable energy in the longer term. Those countries looking for the energy stability that renewables can offer as the global geopolitical situation becomes more fractious will keep the transition moving. Continuing to drive down the costs of production and installation until renewables are the more profitable alternative to all but the most accessible fossil fuels.” Jamie Anderson

“The key takeaway from my experience in Dubai, filled with enlightening discussions with incredible leaders, is the universal agreement on one crucial point: we do possess all the necessary solutions, technologies and funds to combat the climate crisis. What we critically need now is a collective will to act. That’s where I firmly believe the universal appeal of sport can play a transformative role. When SailGP athletes speak, they command attention in a way that transcends the capabilities of politicians and scientists. Their words and actions have the power to galvanise millions of people, to engage them in changing their behaviours. COPs work in multiple ways – not only through their resolutions, but also through shifting public debate on environmental issues and normalising concepts previously seen as radical.  Getting an agreement to move away from fossil fuels shows how much economic priorities are changing.” Markus Müller

“COP28 opened the door to global business in a big way. Today, many business sectors and in some cases single organisations have overtaken nations when in comes to global impact and carbon footprint. We understand that companies exist to make profit. Whilst the threat of there being “no business on a dead planet” might check some actions, the opportunity for business to be more profitable as a result of reducing their impact and in providing the long-term solutions we urgently need, has to be a source of genuine hope.” Will Hayler

Finally, should we consider the final draft ‘major progress that heeds the science’ or a ‘litany of loopholes’?

“Both. Almost inevitably, given the politics of fossil carbon. But fossil fuels are now properly in the spotlight—and it’s up to us to determine which interpretation turns out to be the right one.” John Elkington

“To quote Christiana Figueres, the UN is a master of “creative ambiguity”, and this is needed to get 193 countries to sign up to anything. So this is less about language for me, more about energy and intention. Let’s hope both are focused on the right direction for the COPs to come.” Gail Gallie

“The UAE and the Oil and Gas companies played a blinder at COP28. I was always sceptical about Dubai and could never get past the idea of the CEO of one of the largest oil companies in world being President. The fox overseeing the hen house, as one journalist put it. Starting the conference by announcing the compensation fund was a great way to detract attention. To then submit a significantly watered down first treaty draft, leading to a final draft filled with ‘concessions’ including directly referencing fossil fuels meant it looked like progress. With global oil demand in 2023 higher than at any time in human-history, many delegations not consulted on the final draft and ambiguous language I think this treaty will do the job it was always intended to do. Delay the energy transition.” Jamie Anderson

“It’s a draft that “heeds the science” but doesn’t go far enough. Particularly regarding the urgency of reducing emissions (or the necessary extent of cuts). Such commitments aren’t really about closing all loopholes in advance. Rather, they’re about creating momentum and keeping everyone moving forward towards transition and hopefully more in a next step.” Markus Müller

“COP28 certainly diced with science, but it should be said that the media took the words they wanted for headlines. COP28 can be credited with progress, it should also be credited with hosting a global conference as important as COP at scale. To achieve major progress, we must make sure the major players remain engaged. Onwards.” Will Hayler

We asked leading figures in the Blue Earth community to share their hopes and expectations for COP28 outcomes.

Blue Earth Heads to COP28 from Markus Müller, Nawi K Flores, Dan Yates, Nadia Owusu, Chris Butler-Stroud and Dan Crockett.

Read more…

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