Power to the people @ COP28: UN climate summit makes progress

What is responsible for climate change? And who is responsible for its consequences?

While the answers to these questions have been known for decades — fossil fuels are responsible for 75 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions with the wealthiest countries responsible for the vast majority of these emissions — past climate negotiations have failed to even adequately address them.

A group of people holding signs that say "deliver climate finance," "loss and damage finance now," and "adaptation finance now"
Activists demanding financing for climate change at COP28 in Dubai, UAE © Rebecca Spring / WWF-Canada

At the COP28 summit in Dubai, the 28th annual UN climate change negotiations, delegates set out to remedy that. The goal was a global course correction to get the world on track for limiting warming to 1.5C by securing a global commitment to phase out fossil fuels by 2050 and creating a “loss and damage” fund to support the people, communities and countries most affected by the ever-increasing climate impacts.

“We must demonstrate decisive action and a credible plan to keep 1.5-degree goal alive, protecting those on the frontlines of the climate crisis,” said UN Secretary-General, António Guterres. “We can’t keep kicking the can down the road. We are out of road — and almost out of time.”

Until those most responsible become accountable, the people and communities who can least afford it are paying the cost of climate change.

From wildfires in Canada to flooding in South Sudan, people and communities have experienced unbearable losses this year alone from extreme weather fuelled by our changing climate. Yet despite their losses, many of these same people are leading on climate solutions by restoring their damaged lands and communities.

And, so, those people came to COP28.

Speaking at The People’s Plenary, the co-chair explained: “We keep coming to COP precisely because government and corporations and all those who are primarily responsible for climate change are failing us.

“We come to COP to fight. As we fight year-round in as many places and spaces that we can, as communities, as peoples. This is not the only place where we fight. We do not do this only once a year.”

“We come to COP because we suffer devastation already. And they cannot delay the measures that build and empower our people who have resilience to address the loss and damage we are already fighting.”

And this is not just an issue of the Global South. Indigenous people and communities across Canada are grappling with the impacts of climate-fuelled wildfires, droughts, floods, ice melt and wildlife loss.

“What was lost in the Elephant Hill fire was $1.6 billion worth of economic and ecological services to First Nations communities per year,” said Angela Kane, CEO of Secwepemcúl’ecw Restoration and Stewardship Society (SRSS), speaking remotely at a WWF-Canada-hosted panel at COP28. “When we restore, we restore from an Indigenous perspective…and a balanced ecological perspective.”

Two women and two men sitting on a stage with a sign that says "Canada" in the background
Elizabeth Hendriks, Jennifer Pylypiw, Steven Nitah, and James Snider at WWF-Canada’s panel at the Canada Pavilion © Rebecca Spring / WWF-Canada

Many First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada are also leading on climate action: protecting and restoring ecosystems that contain critical carbon stocks and lessen current and future climate impacts.

“There is no net zero without nature; no nature without Indigenous Peoples,” said Steven Nitah, Managing Director at Nature for Justice.

There were countless other stories at COP of people overcoming challenges to develop climate solutions. Speaking at another WWF-Canada-hosted panel at the Canada Pavilion in Dubai, Jennifer Pylypiw of the Métis Nation of Alberta shared how they had purchased land to create their first Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA). “Métis Peoples, we don’t have a land base. People are worried and scared of climate change, but we don’t have land to protect. So, we got creative”.

These stories and experiences, and the people behind them, brought a sense of hope to COP28. They showed that we already have effective actions and solutions happening to measurably fight climate change. But they also shone a light on the vast inequality between the companies and countries profiteering from activities that cause climate change and those who are suffering its devastation the most.

That’s why it is so important to make those responsible for causing climate change equally responsible for solving it.

Though tense negotiations pushed past the scheduled deadline, the final COP28 agreement achieved a significant milestone with all countries signing off on a “transition away” from fossil fuels (and 120 of them committing to triple renewable energy by 2030).

And the agreement finally operationalized a much-needed Loss and Damages Fund for poorer countries already experiencing severe climate impacts. While more money is needed, and science tells us a complete phase-out of fossil fuels should be reached by 2050, this firm global commitment to kick-start these processes will direct support and funding to the on-the-ground projects making a difference for climate, for nature, and for people.