• COP28 kicks off with important announcements right from the opening plenary. 
  • The Loss and Damage Fund has been established, unprecedentedly, already at the plenary session.
  • The demands remain high, but we will understand what we can expect only in the next few days. 

COP28 on climate began on Thursday November 30th in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. There is great expectation for the outcomes of this conference, which takes place in an extremely worrying climate situation. The latest IPCC report, published in March 2023 at the end of the sixth assessment cycle, reminds us how far we are from the goal of keeping the global average temperature increase within 1.5 °C, and how the planet is increasingly incapable of supporting us. The price we all pay is high, but those who are paying the highest price are the most vulnerable populations in developing countries (source IPCC). 

The same report also states that human rights-based climate action is more effective, and our group at the ICN adds that it is necessary to achieve climate justice. This term incorporates multiple aspects of the concept of justice (we talked about it here) and serves as a catalyst for actions aimed at producing transformative intersectional effects for the benefit of all, getting to the root of the various forms of inequality and discrimination that interact with climate change. 

Because these goals are at the heart of the protection of human rights, it is crucial to incorporate them into climate action. And this is even truer in this COP28, which takes place in such a crucial historical moment for our future and that of the next generations. The IPCC, as a matter of fact, warns us that actions to combat climate change can no longer be postponed; instead, they must become even more ambitious. 

In this context, civil society believes that COP28 should serve as a critical hub to strengthen the intersections between human rights and climate action, and many themes may enable this opportunity. In particular, a commitment is requested: 

  1. to a swift, fair, clear and well-financed ‘phase out’ from fossil fuels, with extensive investment in renewables as part of a broader ‘just transition’ package; 
  2. to the incorporation and integration of human rights with an intersectional approach in all lines of COP28 work from Global Stocktake (GST), to the New, Collective, Quantified Goal (NCQG) for climate finance, to the Just Transition; so that they serve as criteria and guidelines, as well as greater synergy between the UNFCCC and the human rights bodies of the United Nations, also in light of the recent Commentary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which clarified how children’s rights are linked to environmental protection and the human right to a healthy and clean environment (HR CRC General Comment). 
  3. to place people and not business at the center of climate action, therefore paying attention to the right to health, the right to reproduction and care, which are the basis of any development and production. 

However, we cannot ignore the fact that COP28 is being held in a country whose economy is heavily rooted in the oil industry and with a poor track record on human rights. In addition to this, there are recent revelations on the alleged conflict of interests of the Emirati Presidency and the concerns of civil society on the possibility of having safe spaces to exercise their rights of expression and assembly at the climate negotiations, which already emerged at COP27. So what can we expect?

At the opening plenary, the Emirati President of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, declared that this must be the COP of the turning point because the world awaits it and it is what science demands. In particular, he declared that the negotiation must be approached with a new mindset and with flexibility, that we must strongly focus on unconventional solutions, guaranteeing an inclusive and transparent process. 

It is in this context that we should interpret the delay in the start of the plenary, which saw the last-minute inclusion of Hana Alhashimi, the lead negotiator of the United Arab Emirates at COP27 and COP28 among the participants in the opening ceremony of the negotiations, originally made up of men only. Likewise, the unprecedented decision adopted in the plenary to establish the Loss and Damage Fund according to the recommendations that had been presented by the Transitional Committee. This was immediately followed by congratulations from the countries and by related pledges to finance the fund, with 225 million euros from the European Union and 17.5 million dollars from the United States. 

These declarations are certainly positive, but how should they be interpreted in the general context and, above all, from the perspective of climate justice and integration of human rights? 

As it currently stands, the plenary and various negotiating sessions have been made more accessible to states and members of the private sector rather than to the rest of civil society (our delegates were not always able to gain access, for example). The Emirati President began by saying that he will support an unabated phase out through a combination of fossil and renewable energy, which is not exactly what is needed considering the joint declarations of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the need for a complete phase out

Finally, the decision to adopt the Fund means that the text presented by the Transitional Committee, which had been deeply criticized by the civil society, remains as it is (see article). Further discussions on Loss and Damage may be addressed in other lines of COP28 work (GST, climate finance and the Santiago Network). At the moment, the States have expressed their willingness to partake in the financing of the Fund, for a total commitment of around 500 million dollars to date, an amount which appears insufficient compared to the amounts needed to deal with the climate crisis

States must work to produce concrete results that can ensure a stable climate and a world in which human rights are not just on paper. The road to achieving the goals of the Paris agreement will have to pass through ambitious efforts in all fields, from mitigation and adaptation to climate finance, through transparent and inclusive processes. 

The next few days will reveal what course this COP28 will take, whether it will be the COP of the turning point or not. Certainly the unprecedented decision to adopt the Fund in the plenary reveals the ability of the Emirati presidency to direct the international community in decision-making processes, but which ones? 

Erika Moranduzzo, Coordinator of the ‘Rights and Climate’ Section and Alice Rotiroti, Italian Climate Network Volunteer

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