Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage 

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Who should be the next UN Secretary General

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Balance™ methodology – converting carbon finance to biodiversity creation

By Daniel Morrell, Felix Dodds and James Cameron


This paper addresses two interlinked problems in sustainable development and suggests a methodology to resolve them.

The first is the reduction of atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide.

The second is the maintenance of biodiversity. Current carbon financing and environmental stewardship mechanisms underwhelm, often diluting intended positive effects. Most existing carbon credits do not have protection after 40 years, placing projects substantially beneath the C02 radiative forcing cycle.

This paper presents the ‘Balance’ approach to sustainable development, including contractual principles ensuring C02 reduction, biodiversity enhancement and financial accountability.

We describe two novel measures: a carbon calculator for commercial entities, and a new metric, the Balance Unit, combining biodiversity creation with carbon credits.

A case study, spanning over 20 years at the Forest of Marston Vale, is then presented. It finds an increase in tree cover, CO2 sequestration, reduction in agricultural GHG emissions, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter absorption, and annual local economic benefits totalling £UK12.83 million.

Expository detail regarding the ‘Planting Principles’ practised at Marston Vale is also provided. We argue that the Balance methodology, especially the Balance Unit, enables greater measurement reliability and long-term efficacy for maintaining biodiversity and reducing GHG emissions than current carbon financing approaches.

The paper can be downloaded from here.

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GLOBAL COOPERATION ON CLIMATE CHANGE What Have We Achieved and What Needs to Happen

By Felix Dodds and Chris Spence

Climate change has been a source of concern among the international community since the 1970s. Yet, almost fifty years since the issue was first raised in international diplomatic circles by prominent scientists, the situation continues to deteriorate, with rises in temperatures and extreme weather causing ever-magnifying problems around the world.

What has the global community done to date to deal with what many consider an existential threat to humanity’s future? And what needs to happen next in the UN negotiations as diplomats and other key stakeholders head to Dubai for COP28? This briefing provides a short history of global cooperation to date, then looks towards Dubai and beyond for what needs to happen next.

We argue that, although much more has been done to date than many give the UN and global community credit for, we face a critical time where action needs to be scaled-up dramatically if we are to avoid the worst outcomes from the climate threat.

A Brief History of the International Community’s Response to Climate Change

The United Nations first began to set out the case for action on climate change in the late 1970s, with the First World Climate Conference in 1979. Sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), it brought together scientists from various disciplines to explore the issue. This led in 1988 to the establishment by the WMO and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which took scientific consideration of climate change to a new level. The research-based warnings presented by the IPCC strengthened the case for action (and continue to do so today). Initially, a Second World Climate Conference was held in 1990 and this set the agenda for negotiations on a global treaty. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed by the UN General Assembly in time for the June 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The agreement entered into force in March 1994 when 50 countries had ratified the convention through their legislatures. It now has 198 Parties.

The UNFCCC is sometimes criticized for being weak or ineffective. However, as a “framework” convention, it should really be considered a foundation or starting-point for further agreements that build upon it. In this respect, it models earlier agreements, including the ones that have so successfully tackled the ozone crisis. The Vienna Convention, which was the first treaty on ozone, was itself quite limited. However, subsequent agreements, including the Montreal Protocol, built a strong and ultimately successful structure upon this early foundation. Furthermore, the UNFCCC does include some strong and important concepts and commitments, including the need to limit climate change caused by humans to a level that is not dangerous. It also recognizes that some countries are better placed than others to do this work, and that many, such as those in the Global South, will need support and assistance.

The UNFCCC led rapidly to the Kyoto Protocol, which was agreed in December 1997. It, too, recognized the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” between different groups of countries, with developed countries to take the lead and carry the most responsibility for emissions in the atmosphere. The Kyoto Protocol was innovative in several ways. First, it included specific targets for many countries from the Global North.  While not all governments took these as seriously as they might, in many countries it started an ongoing and detailed policy response from governments, including greater investment in renewable energy and other policy shifts to begin to decouple economic growth from the growth in fossil fuel emissions. These efforts have enjoyed some success, and per capita emissions have dropped in many industrialized countries even as rising populations and economic growth elsewhere mean global emissions have continued to increase overall.

What’s more, the Kyoto Protocol provided a catalyst for private sector engagement. Government policies that encouraged corporate investment in new technologies, emissions trading, and other innovations began to make the climate response look more like a “whole-of-society” effort than one involving sequestered government departments. However, as the economies of the Global South grew and prospered in the 2000s, it was clear that Kyoto, with its focus squarely on actions in the Global North, would not be enough.

Hopes were high that the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009 would replace the Kyoto Protocol with a more ambitious approach that would come into effect from 2012. Ultimately, it failed in its immediate goal of securing a new, legally binding agreement. However, as we note in our book, Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy (Routledge, 2022), although the meeting did not secure a new deal, President Obama did manage to float some new concepts in a weakened outcome known as the Copenhagen Accord. The ideas it contained included a $100 billion climate fund to help the Global South and, even more significantly, a need for all countries to be a part of the solution to climate change.

In 2015, the seeds sown at the disappointing meeting in Copenhagen finally bore fruit. The Paris Agreement took on the ambitious aim of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. It requires countries to take on targets and to report back to the UN on progress. While some criticized these targets for being voluntary rather than mandatory (as was the case with Kyoto), many praised the fact that the commitments were to be taken on by all countries. What’s more, the Paris Agreement provided flexibility so countries could take on what was best fitted to their particular circumstances and level of economic development. This made it possible for all countries to agree on the way forward, since it continued to respect nations’ sovereignty rather than trying to impose specific emissions targets on them.

One sign that Paris has had a positive impact has been forecasts for future global temperature rise by the end of the century. Before 2015, various predictions based on emissions trends suggested rises of upwards of 4, 5, and 6 Celsius, or even higher. This would be utterly catastrophic for humanity. Today, forecasts trend somewhere between 1.8C-3C, depending on the assumptions in the model. To be clear, these are still very bleak numbers. They signify likely outcomes that are highly dangerous and may even be calamitous. But it does show an encouraging trend.   

The next significant UN climate conference was COP26 in Glasgow. Held in 2021 as the world was still reeling from the COVID pandemic, the outcome from COP26 included the Glasgow Climate Pact, which sought to promote the reduced use of coal and other sources of emissions. Glasgow also witnessed the first review of countries’ voluntary commitments under Paris (known in UN-speak as “Nationally Determined Contributions”).  Glasgow also promoted the idea of ‘coalitions of the willing’ to advance ideas that might not have enough support to find consensus among all 198 countries that belonged to the UNFCCC, but that were nevertheless considered by some to be worth pursuing.

In spite of some skepticism at the time, some of these coalitions do promise positive results. For instance, the Methane Pledge now has 111 countries committing to a 30% reduction in methane on 2020 levels by 2030. If countries honor their promises, this could bring down climate projections by 0.2C by 2050.

Another coalition of the willing was the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), which brought commitments from over 650 global financial institutions from banking, asset owners and managers, insurers and financial service providers committing to support the transition to net zero. Again, promises only matter if they are kept. However, if they are honored, then the impact of GFANZ will be significant.

In 2022, the UN Climate Conference, COP27, was held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. There, the major breakthrough was the agreement on the need for a fund to help developing countries suffering loss and damage caused by climate change. Such a fund has long been a rallying cry for negotiators from the Global South, as well as their allies.

What Next? Looking towards COP28 in Dubai

COP28 is being held against a complicated global backdrop. With conflict and turmoil in Europe and the Middle East, tension among the great powers and economic uncertainty around the world, how realistic can our ambitions be for COP28 and what does it need to deliver for us to consider it a success?

Progress on Loss and Damage

The run-up to COP28 in Dubai has seen significant work by a transitional committee deliberating on the infrastructure of a future Loss and Damage Fund. It was meant to have three meetings between the COPs and ultimately needed more before a compromise was found on where such a fund might be situated. In the end, the agreement was for the World Bank to act as an “interim” host for four years. The decision to set up a similar governance structure to the Green Climate Fund has perhaps given it a heavy bureaucracy, which might be a problem in the future. However, the forward momentum and growing certainty on how it will be organized has encouraged a number of countries to put funds into the nascent Loss and Damage Fund. This includes the European Union, which is pledging “substantial” contributions. Meanwhile, the host country, UAE, is looking at making a contribution, The US has also said it would put “several millions into the fund”. While modest in size, it is at least a start.

A key issue in Dubai will be who will get the money. The agreement at COP27 was to assist “developing nations, especially those that are particularly vulnerable”. The EU is suggesting this means the least developed countries and small island developing states. Developing countries have so far resisted reducing it to those groups. Some point to situations such as the terrible floods in Pakistan before COP27 as an example of how funds might be allocated. Pakistan is neither a least developed country nor an island state. Does that mean it would not have been eligible had such a fund existed at the time, in spite of its clear and obvious need?

In spite of these kind of uncertainties, COP28 is expected to advance work on the Loss and Damage Fund. Failure to do so would be judged harshly, given recent momentum.

Beyond Loss and Damage – Boosting Funding

The commitment proposed back in Copenhagen in 2009 for US$100 billion a year for climate finance by 2020 was not achieved until 2022. In part, the blame for this can be placed on COVID 19, which caused disruption in aid and climate budgets, among many other problems.

While the $100 billion goal has now been attained, it is important to remember that this was intended as a floor and not a ceiling. Furthermore, much of the money is being distributed as loans rather than grants. As a consequence, it has actually had a negative impact on the indebtedness of some least developed countries.

The reality is that we need trillions, not billions, to address climate change and that government aid will not be enough.  As a reference point, Official Development Assistance (ODA) reached a new high of US$204 billion in 2022.  While welcome, this is wholly inadequate for the climate crisis, for which funding should be additional to ODA in any case.

COP28 marks a staging post on the path to developing a new collective quantified goal on climate finance, which is slated to be agreed in 2024.  In Dubai there will be a High-Level Ministerial Dialogue on 3 December. This discussion should send a strong signal that any new goal in 2024 will be ambitious, innovative, and at a much higher level than in the past. Anything less will invite criticisms that COP28 was a missed opportunity.

Looking Back to Leap Forward?

A major component of the talks at COP28 will be what insiders call the “global stocktake”. Held every five years, it presents delegates with an opportunity to assess their collective progress in delivering on the Paris Agreement. How has the world performed in terms of climate mitigation, adaptation, and implementation? Participants in this year’s stocktake have before them the worrying fact that the world is already nudging close to the 1.5C warming limit governments pledged to stay within. Optimists are hoping COP28 catalyzes the beginning of more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions in the next two years, and a strong collective undertaking by governments to redouble their efforts.

The signs so far are not positive. Since COP27, only 20 countries have increased their pledges, including Egypt, Mexico, Norway, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates. While this should be welcomed, none of the major emitters has stepped forward. Recently, the head of the UN’s climate office, Simon Stiell, labeled efforts as “baby steps” rather than the “bold strides” that are needed. If COP28 does not yield a satisfactory outcome on this topic, many are likely to see it as a missed opportunity, or even as a failure. At the very least, major emitters should step up at COP28 and indicate that they will be announcing much more ambitious goals sooner than later.

A Host of Problems?

In recent months, there has been considerable criticism of the incoming UAE Presidency.  Many media commentators have asked why an OPEC member should be hosting a climate COP? Does this not send a bad signal, they ask?

Many of these talking heads may not be aware that UN Climate Summits are rotated around the five UN regions, and that this was Asia’s turn to host. Furthermore, there was little appetite from other governments in the region to host it.

Critics have also pointed out that the President of COP28 will be Sultan Al Jaber, who has a history in the fossil-fuel industry. The counter-argument is that he has also been prominent in promoting the UAE’s work on renewable energy. He was the founding CEO and is the current Chair of Masdar, a UAE-owned renewable energy company. As we write this article, the United Arab Emirates has launched the Al Dhafra solar farm. It is now the world’s largest single-site solar farm, powering 200,000 homes.

Rather than engaging in these debates, we would argue that the host government should be judged on whether COP28 is a success. The UAE Presidency has identified its own priorities where they will push for major progress: mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, innovating the UN process by engaging more with the private sector, and pushing for greater inclusion, accountability and transparency. These are worthy goals and it should therefore be possible to judge them based on these topics once the meeting ends. If they deliver, it will show that a fossil fuel producer is capable of promoting progress on climate change. If it does not, then the UAE will certainly come in for criticism.

It is also worth noting that, although the UAE is a prominent fossil fuel producer, many previous hosts have also been in the same camp, even if some are less well known for this. For instance, Poland, South Africa, India, and Indonesia have all hosted COPs in the past (Poland has actually hosted three), and yet all four of these countries line up among the world’s top ten coal producing countries. Meanwhile, Qatar, another former host, is a major oil and gas producer. Should they not have hosted the COPs? Again, we feel hosts should be judged by the results they achieve.

Ramping Up the Carbon Market

The Paris Agreement included use of carbon markets to reach our emissions targets. A rulebook for this was largely completed at Glasgow in 2021. This should open the door to many billions of dollars of investments (in 2021 it was $2 billion). The rules set at Glasgow should help ensure that offsets are of high “quality" (meaning they genuinely help reduce and offset emissions). COP28 will provide an opportunity to assess early progress as we move into an implementation phase. Are the markets ramping up? Who is using them, and how can we encourage them to grow? COP28 needs to address these issues.

Global Goal on Adaptation

The world is so far down the climate change path that adapting to its impact is already happening and will be unavoidable in future. A review under what is known as the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme (GlaSS) will be presented at COP28, and clear targets, indicators, and financing options are expected by COP29.

There was also a commitment in Glasgow to double adaptation funding by 2025. If this happened, it would raise the amount to US$40 billion annually. Again, COP28 provides an opportunity to give some early signals this goal will be achieved.

 Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero

Outside the government negotiations, observers at COP28 will also be looking for progress by other stakeholders. For instance, the Glasgow Finance Alliance for Net Zero referred to earlier represents two-fifths of the world’s financial assets, $130 trillion, under the management of banks, insurers and pension funds that have signed up to 2050 net-zero goals, including limiting global warming to 1.5C. The potential of such a group is enormous.

At COP28, this group should report back on progress, and other stakeholders should be ready to hold it to account to ensure these goals are real and are being actively pursued, rather than just being empty promises.

Judging Dubai

COP28 has a number of key outcomes it needs to deliver, as well as being an important stepping stone to further COPs that will also have to deliver specific outcomes that are ambitious and commensurate with the scale of the challenge we face.  

If delegates in Dubai are to declare success, they will need to finalize the Loss and Damage Fund, advance the Goal Global on Adaptation, and pack a real punch with the Global Stocktake, with concrete outcomes to help us limit global temperature rise. Do this, and COP28 stands a good chance of being hailed a success. Fail to deliver and observers will view it rightly as a missed opportunity not just for diplomacy, but in guiding us towards a more sustainable future.

Felix Dodds and Chris Spence are co-editors of the recent book, Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage (Routledge Press, 2022). It includes chapters on the climate negotiations held in Kyoto (1997), Copenhagen (2009) and Paris (2015). Felix is also Director, Multilateral Affairs. Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service (RMWSSS) at Arizona State University



UNFCCC (2023) Nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement. Synthesis report by the secretariat

UNFCCC (2023) UN Body agrees vital carbon crediting guidance ahead of COP28, UNFCCC. Available online here:


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Will COP28 Catch the Next Green Wave … Or Will It Wipe Out?

The hosts of COP28 are betting big on business and a private sector “mindset” to deliver a successful event. Are they right? Professor Felix Dodds and Chris Spence review the current state-of-play.

Perhaps one of the least well known among Dubai’s many attractions is surfing. Locals and visitors enjoy the sport at Sunset Beach and elsewhere, especially in winter. There is even an artificial wave pool where surfers can hone their skills. To some, the pool is just another example of the host country’s entrepreneurial outlook.

With COP28 on the horizon, the host government of the United Arab Emirates is once again promoting the virtues of business. In a recent interview with the Guardian media outlet, COP28 president-designate Sultan Al Jaber said the world needs a “business mindset” to tackle the climate crisis. What’s more, he laid out plans to use the COP to promote private sector goals as well as those for governments.

Will this focus on business signal a genuine new green wave, or will it wipe out? This article assesses the state of play and the host’s approach as we head into the official preparatory meetings taking place in Bonn, Germany, in June.

What was achieved at COP27?

To understand the situation, we need first to look at what happened at COP27. This is important not just in terms of the current landscape, but because the COP27 hosts, Egypt, technically continue to hold the presidency until COP28 officially starts on November 30th. While all incoming presidencies are incredibly active in the months leading up to the event they will host, the outgoing presidency has a role to play, too, and the quality of the relationship between the two governments is important.

For many UN insiders, COP27 exceeded expectations. Admittedly, expectations were not high, particularly since COP27 was viewed by many as an “in-between” COP rather than one with critical milestones of the sort that occur every few years. While all COPs matter, most insiders will tell you not all are equal in importance. The COP in Sharm El-Sheikh had a menu of issues it was dealing with, but it was not one where, say, a new global agreement was expected (such as COP21 in Paris), or a global stock take was due (as will happen at COP28 later this year). There had been calls for governments to strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (pledges and commitments) at COP27, but few did.

The major achievement at COP27—and the reason the meeting exceeded expectations—was an agreement to establish a loss and damage fund to support vulnerable countries. Few anticipated such a positive outcome even a few weeks prior to the meeting. Although the agreement on loss and damage did not include acceptance of historical responsibility, it was viewed as a big win for the Egyptian Presidency, small islands and other vulnerable states, as well as the Group of 77 developing countries, which in 2022 was under the presidency of Pakistan. Under the terms of the agreement at COP27, the loss and damage fund will need to be operationalized at COP28 and a transitional committee is already working on this. In the world of multilateral diplomacy, this is an ambitious timeframe.

There was another positive development on a modest scale at COP27 on the Global Goal on Adaptation. Delegates agreed to “initiate the development of a framework” to be available for adoption in 2024. Meanwhile, on agriculture a new four-year process was agreed to carry on the work started under the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture. There is a sense now that agriculture and food security are gaining the attention they deserve in climate negotiations.

Outside the formal negotiations, many projects and alliances were advanced, including plans to accelerate the decarbonization of five major sectors: power, road transport, steel, hydrogen, and agriculture. Noteworthy initiatives included the launch of the Global Renewables Alliance, which brings together leaders from the wind, solar, hydropower, green hydrogen, long duration energy storage, and geothermal sectors.

What was not achieved at COP27?

The main source of disappointment at COP27 was the absence of ambition on mitigation. There was a noteworthy lack of new and ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from governments. What this means is that the critical needle has not shifted when it comes to keeping global warming to less than 1.5 Celsius, or even under 2C. According to the Climate Action Tracker, our long-term scenarios are still well above 2C under most scenarios, and as high as 3.4C under their most pessimistic estimate. This means things have not really improved since COP26.

What’s more, research released just before COP27 showed that the Global North is still not delivering on its commitment to provide $100 billion a year to the Global South. One silver lining to this dark cloud is that this goal may finally be reached in time for COP28. Still, that is three years too late.

Meanwhile, COP27 did less to clarify new rules for the global carbon market than many were hoping to see. While COP26 in Glasgow had provided more details about Paris Agreement Article 6 (which sets out a framework for international cooperation and carbon markets), more granular guidance is still needed. Some fear that without more details on accountability and measurement, for instance in terms of carbon offsets, we could end up with a “wild west” when it comes to the markets.

There was also little progress in negotiations aimed at encouraging the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. On the private sector side, while many companies have made net-zero targets, research suggests many do not have robust plans to deliver this, and there is uncertainty over how the private sector will use carbon offsets. Without greater clarity, this hyped-up “wave” of pledges from businesses around COP26 and before may end up a damp squib.

Looking to the Bonn climate conference

The political backdrop to the UN Bonn climate conference in June is complex. On the downside, governments are still emerging from the COVID pandemic and many are still focused on, and feeling the impact of, the war in Ukraine. On the positive side, the cost of solar and wind continues to fall and European countries are moving more quickly because they want to be independent of Russian fossil fuels. Although others are taking advantage of Europe’s reduced demand to increase purchases of Russia’s fossil fuels at reduced prices, the growing focus on renewable energy in many countries should be seen as a positive overall in terms of climate mitigation.

With some major milestones coming up at COP28 later this year, the Bonn conference in June will give us some signals of how close we will be to delivering success in December.

Global Stocktake: UN climate negotiators are expected to take stock of progress on the Paris Agreement every five years. COP28 marks the culmination of the first “stocktake” and will be expected to shape and catalyze future action. The stocktake has three phases. In the first phase, which started at COP26, information is collected and prepared from various sources to help assess progress. Phase 2, which started last year, includes in-person “technical dialogues” focused on mitigation, adaptation, and implementation. These will conclude in Bonn this June. Finally, the stocktake will end at COP28 with a presentation of findings and discussions on how to respond. The Bonn meeting will therefore present an opportunity to take the pulse of these discussions. How robust have the technical dialogues been? Is there a surge of support from governments to make COP28 a major milestone for climate action? Bonn should provide clues about this. 

Loss and Damage Fund: The transitional committee has been established and had its first meeting in Luxor, Egypt, in April. It will meet again in Bonn. Its role is to make recommendations on how to operationalize both the new funding arrangements and the fund at COP28. How are these discussions proceeding? Bonn should give some indications on progress, as well as potential areas of discord and disagreement.

Global Goal on Adaptation: With significant change already “baked in” to our climate system, effective adaptation will be critical. The Global Goal on Adaptation was agreed under the Paris Agreement and recognizes the need to build adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and limit vulnerability. Adaptation will be addressed in Bonn under both the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). It also links to the work of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, a related UN initiative which is having its “mid-term review” at UN Headquarters in New York from 18-19 May.

New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance: The goal of providing $100 billion in support annually for the Global South by 2020 was originally set in 2009. Now it is up for review. Since that earlier goal was viewed as a “floor” rather than a ceiling, many are expecting more ambitious targets in future. A new goal is supposed to be set before 2025, meaning COP29 in 2024 should mark the moment when a new number (or set of numbers) is agreed. Again, Bonn will mark a moment to assess how those conversations are going, especially given the wide differences in the type of dollar figures being bandied about by the Global North and Global South (many of whom are calling for trillions). Those following this topic can look to the 6th Technical Expert Dialogue, which is taking place in Bonn, to get a sense of progress.

Carbon Markets: As mentioned above, in spite of progress many are still hoping for more granular details on the carbon markets. This will be vital to curtail greenwashing with offsets.

Coalitions of the Willing: Sultan Al Jaber, the COP28 president-designate, recently highlighted the private sector’s role in combating climate change. In fact, all stakeholders will need to be fully engaged if we are to have any chance of staying withing 1.5C of warming. Voluntary coalitions of governments, the private sector and many others will be vital, especially when it comes to advancing issues where all 190+ governments that are party to the UN climate treaty and Paris Agreement are not yet ready or willing to agree.

Such voluntary initiatives offer considerable scope for those who want to move ahead. In turn, this has the potential to set precedents and entrench ideas that might be taken up by all governments in future formal UN negotiations. An example of this is the methane pledge, which involved some 50 countries reporting on progress at COP27. More should be looked for at COP28. Likewise, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, which has reportedly had some teething problems since its launch in 2021, will hopefully use COP28 as a moment to showcase progress and put its early difficulties behind it.

Will COP28 Launch a New Green Wave?

Eyebrows were raised when the United Arab Emirates was first named as host of COP28. Why, people asked, would a climate COP be held in an OPEC state? Furthermore, many wondered publicly whether Sultan Al Jaber, who is likely to preside over the meeting, should do so given his role as chief executive of UAE’s national oil company? Does this represent a conflict of interest?

These are fair questions that will only be fully answered by the COP and what it achieves. However, it is worth noting that the prospects of a fossil fuel-producing country hosting COP28 were always quite high. As UN insiders know, the climate COPs are typically hosted on a rotating basis in each of the UN’s five “regional groups.” This time around, it was Asia-Pacific’s turn. Many countries in this region, including more than a dozen small island nations, probably do not have the internal capacity to host an event of this magnitude. Of those that do, many—from Saudi Arabia to India, Indonesia to China, Iran to Australia—are fossil-fuel producers. Furthermore, while Sultan Al Jaber has a history in the fossil-fuel industry, he has also been prominent in the UAE’s work on renewable energy and is the founding CEO and current Chair of Masdar, a UAE-owned renewable energy company. Depicting him simply as a fossil fuel “dinosaur” does not do justice to a more nuanced and complicated situation.

Ultimately, UAE’s role as COP28 host will be judged on results. Will COP deliver an operational and meaningful loss and damage fund? Will it produce a global stocktake that invigorates international action? How will discussions on a new global finance goal shape up? And will Sultan Al Jaber’s overtures towards the private sector turn the steady trickle of pledges into a giant wave of action? Finally, will other stakeholders, like non-governmental organizations, be embraced and welcomed? We should also note the significance of appointing Razan Al Mubarak as UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for the COP28 Presidency, given she is also IUCN President and a former head of Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency.

One early indicator in Bonn will be an expected update on COP28 logistics. This is likely to include more details on the “Blue Zone” (where negotiations are held and many stakeholders usually have pavilions and stalls). Will the Blue Zone offer easy access to all stakeholders? And how will the “Green Zone,” which at past COPs has been open to the public, operate?

Only time will tell if COP28 marks the start of a new green wave or ends in an unfortunate wipe out.

Adjunct Professor Felix Dodds is Vice President of Multilateral Affairs, Rob and Melani Walton Sustainable Solutions Service (RMWSSS) at Arizona State University. He is also Adjunct Professor and Senior Fellow at the Global Research Institute, University of North Carolina, and Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute, Boston.

Chris Spence is a consultant and advisor to a range of international organizations on climate change and sustainable development, as well as an award-winning writer. Spence and Dodds recently co-edited Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage (Routledge, 2022).


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Interview by Marc Buckley on UNFCCC and our book Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy

Felix Dodds and Chris Spence are my guests on Episode 174 of Inside Ideas with Marc Buckley. Watch here on YouTube 

Global climate conferences are typically met with scepticism by a public struggling to see them as anything more than a bastion of empty promises. But a new book asks us all to look again, at the detail, and specifically to the people shifting the needle of progress towards the symbiotic interests of people and planet.

In a book about some of the achievements driven by scientists, politicians, diplomats, activists and businesspeople, Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage offers a much needed new perspective on the real impact being made when governments get together to thrash out deals that can deliver change.

The book is edited by my guests today on Inside Ideas: the award-winning writer and environmentalist, Chris Spence, and an old friend of the show, Felix Dodds, a leading thinker in the area of global governance for 30 years, he has written or edited 24 books on sustainable development. Both have spent serious time working inside the annual COP climate conferences and pretty much every other intergovernmental event tasked with developing solutions for the planet.

“One of our points in the book is that the big outcomes, like the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement, do have a significant impact that cascades all around the world through government policies,” Chris explains. “It influences business decisions, it influences investment in new technology. Prior to 2015 when the Paris Agreement was signed we were staring down the barrel of between 4 and 6 degrees Celsius of warming, now we’ve reduced it to somewhere in the order of 2 to 2.5 something. That’s still terrible — but it’s not as catastrophic and that all came through these UN agreements.”

Chris believes the COP events could be simplified but this book about success stories shows even if the format has a ways to go the idea that they are nothing more than talking shops doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

“We’ve had successes, and if we start to tell some of those stories, we could inspire future leaders, the next generation, who can lead us to new, even bigger successes,” adds Chris.

The 12 heroes discussed in the book show what happens when people ditch thinking that is circumscribed by old ideas and mindsets.

“It was Bobby Kennedy in 1968 who reminded people that GDP recognises how many car accidents are had, how many bombs are used but it doesn’t recognise the happiness we have, or the strength of our families. It was he who said ‘some people ask why, other people ask why not’ so I think we need to dream of things that have yet to happen and make sure that they are part of the agenda,” Felix said.

There are a lot of great stories to unpack in this book, so join Felix, Chris and me on this latest episode of Inside Ideas to take a deep dive into what I think is one of the most important books to be published so far this year.

Originally published here 

Check out Inside Ideas podcast website.

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Was COP27 a Success or Failure?

Originally published IPS 

HARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt, Nov 24 2022 (IPS) - It’s finally over. After the anticipation and build-up to COP27, the biggest climate meeting of the year is now in our rear-view mirror. The crowds of delegates that thronged the Sharm el-Sheikh international convention center for two long weeks have all headed home to recover. Many will be fatigued from long hours and sleepless nights as negotiators tried to seal a deal that would move the world forwards. Did all this hard work pay off? In our opinion, COP 27 was both better and worse than we’d hoped.

Failing to Follow the Science

First, the bad news. COP 27 failed to deliver what the science tells us was needed. With the window of opportunity closing fast on our goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C or less, COP 27 did far too little on the all-important issue of mitigation—that is, cutting emissions.

COP 27 failed to deliver what the science tells us was needed. With the window of opportunity closing fast on our goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C or less, COP 27 did far too little on the all-important issue of mitigation—that is, cutting emissions

The case for urgent action keeps getting stronger. The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make for grim reading about what to expect if we let temperatures rise too much. Nowadays, though, we just need to read the newspapers to catch a glimpse of the future.

The head of the key negotiating Group of 77 – 134 developing countries – was Pakistan which has been dealing with the worst floods in its history, leaving 1717 people dead and dealing an estimated $US40 billion in damage. In 2022 in the USA, there were 15 climate-related disasters which each exceeded $1 billion in costs.

Meanwhile, in Africa, according to Carbon Brief’s analysis of disaster records, “extreme weather events have killed at least 4,000 people and affected a further 19 million since the start of 2022.”

Since this COP was billed by some as the “Africa COP”, one could expect a strong response to such news.

The pressure was therefore on at COP 27 to respond to such disasters. Attending COP27 were 112 world leaders and over 300 government ministers: not as many as at COP 26, but still a good number. Something like 27,000 people from governments, intergovernmental, stakeholders, and journalists also attended the COP. This was to the backdrop of the UN Secretary General warning us that we needed to “cooperate or perish,” to take urgent action to take us off “a highway to climate hell”.

Messing up on mitigation: And yet progress on mitigation was modest, at best. While some delegations pushed hard for stronger commitments on cutting emissions, the appetite in some quarters just didn’t seem to be there. After being pressured to do more in Paris and Glasgow, China, India, and some of the oil-producing countries appeared reluctant to take much more in Sharm el-Sheikh.

They feel developed countries, which are historically responsible for the bulk of emissions, should be doing more themselves, rather than coercing others. The result was a negotiated outcome with little more on the table than we had in Glasgow. For instance, delegates could not agree to ramp up their language on fossil fuels, much to many people’s disappointment.

Finance: Likewise, there was not too much to report on the issue of climate finance. The $US100 billion annual support for developing countries initially promoted by Hilary Clinton at the 2009 Copenhagen COP and enshrined in the Paris COP in 2015 will be reviewed in 2024 with a new figure being hopefully agreed then for 2025 implementation.

The Global South has been talking of this new sum numbering in the trillions to help adapt and mitigate against climate change. And yet there were few signs of movement towards anything of that magnitude.

Given that the North has still not met its pledge of US$100 billion by 2020, it’s clear a lot of movement is needed in the next couple of years. Yet news from outside the conference, such as the US House of Representatives now having a Republican majority, does not bode well.

For a meeting billed as the “implementation COP” where climate action was taken to another level, the news on mitigation and finance was therefore disappointing.

Just prior to the start of COP27 the lead negotiator for Egypt Mohamed Nasr underscored: “science reports were telling us that yes, planning is not up to expectations, but it was implementation on the ground that was really lagging behind.”

Exceeding Expectations—the Loss and Damage Fund

There were some bright spots, however.

Perhaps most surprising was the agreement to create a ‘Loss and Damage’ fund to help the most vulnerable countries. This has been a key issue for almost 30 years, particularly for small island developing countries.

In Glasgow this looked very unlikely to be resolved in the Sharm COP, but with a late change of heart by the Europeans and eventually by the USA and others in the OECD, this is perhaps the most significant and surprising outcome from COP 27. Even as recently as October, the signs were that OECD countries were not on board with calls for a new fund. However, at COP 27 the “trickle” of earlier action in this area turned into a flood.

Interestingly, it was Scotland at COP 26 that started things off, with a modest, voluntary contribution. More recently, Denmark, Austria, New Zealand and Belgium had also financial commitments to loss and damage, now amounting to $US244.5 million. Mia Mottley Barbados’ Prime Minister has called for a 10% windfall tax on oil companies to fund loss and damage caused by climate change, which could raise around $US31 billion if it had been introduced for 2022. Still, the signs a fund would be agreed at COP 27 had not been good.

This makes the final outcome all the more welcome. The idea, the door is now open for the most vulnerable countries to receive more support. A goal has now been set to fully operationalize the fund at COP 28 in a year’s time. For the most vulnerable nations, this cannot come quickly enough.

Global Goal on Adaptation: Another positive development, albeit on a more modest scale, was in the area of the ‘Global Goal on Adaptation’. Here, delegates agreed to “initiate the development of a framework” to be available for adoption next year.

A lot of work will need to be done at the intersessional meeting of the UN Climate Convention’s subsidiary bodies in Bonn in June next year to prepare for this, including how to measure progress towards this Goal. An approach similar to the development of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 might be appropriate, perhaps?

Article 6: Another of the Glasgow breakthroughs was that on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on carbon markets and international cooperation. COP 27 saw some solid work undertaken on how to operationalize this both in market and non-market approaches.

There are still a lot of sceptics on this will have a genuine impact and how to ensure not double counting or even that any offsets are real. An approach that is more ecosystem-based than just trees is gaining momentum. Such a change, if it happens, also offers a real chance to link the two major UN conventions on climate and biodiversity.

Agriculture: The work on the Koronivia Work Programme on Agriculture went down to the wire. The outcome was a four-year open-ended working group reporting at COP31 (2026). Some controversy on the term ‘food systems’ may see its first workshop address this issue.

It will also look at how we can better integrate the programme’s work into other constituted bodies such as the financial mechanisms of the convention. The Green Climate Fund has given only $US1.1 billion for adaptation on agriculture. It says one of the major reasons for this is the:

“Lack of integrated agricultural development planning and capacities that consider maladaptation risks and investment needs across the agricultural sector, climate information services and supply chains.”

While these outcomes on agriculture, adaptation and Article 6 may seem modest, they should be welcomed as steps in the right direction.

Coalitions of the Willing: One of the outcomes from the Glasgow COP was the launch of ‘Coalitions of the Willing’; groups of countries and stakeholders wanting to move quicker on an issue than they might under the official UN negotiations, which are consensus-driven and involve more than 190 countries. In Sharm el-Sheikh we saw a number of countries join the Methane Pledge, including Australia and Egypt. China joined the meeting on the Pledge and committed to its own national methane strategy.

In Glasgow, 137 countries had taken a landmark step forward by committing to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. With the imminent return to leadership in Brazil of President-elect Lula da Silva, there is renewed hope that real action on the Amazon forests is possible again. Lula committed Brazil to reaching zero deforestation and was hailed as a hero by many when he turned up at COP 27 during the second week.

Meanwhile, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ)—the global coalition of leading financial institutions—committed to accelerating the decarbonization of the economy. GFANZ, which includes over 550 of the world’s leading financial institutions, has committed to reduce their financed emissions in line with 1.5 degrees C.

With $US150 trillion of combined balance sheets, the accountability mechanism announced of a new Net-Zero Data Public Utility is yet to prove if it is effective in holding the finance sector to their commitments. However, if it can deliver on its potential, this could be a game changer.

There was plenty more activity at COP 27 where the results are harder to measure. Most people at these large UN climate summits are not negotiators and COP 27 was full of “side events” and government and stakeholder pavilions each with its own set of events and agendas.

Country pavilions provided a venue to talk about their challenges, issue pavilions on oceans, food, water, health, education, and resilience highlighted their issues and how they fit into the climate agenda. These enable critical issues to be discussed in a more open way than could be undertaken in negotiations.

Ideas were shared, connections made, and partnerships for further action shared. The upshot of all of this activity is hard to measure, but probably considerable. The thematic days organized by the Egyptian Presidency also gave space to these issues and helped bring together ideas that may ultimately find their way into future UN decisions. In this respect, too, the quality of the side events and pavilions at COP 27 exceeded our expectations.


On to Dubai and COP28

Was COP27 a success or failure? When it comes to keeping up with the science, the answer can hardly be positive. The call to “keep 1.5 alive” hangs in the balance and is still on “life support”. In that sense, COP 27 had very little impact on our current trajectory, which is a likely warming of 2.4-2.8 C by the end of the century.

On the other hand, the promise of a loss and damage fund, as well as modest successes on adaptation, Article 6, agriculture, and actions outside the official negotiations, mean COP 27 delivered some bright spots of success.

Looking ahead to next year, COP 28 will be important as it marks the first “global stocktake” to judge where things now stand. We hope this will focus world leaders to increase their pledges (or “nationally determined contributions”) significantly. It will be interesting to see how the United Arab Emirates, as COP 28 host, performs. As a major oil producer, it faces some serious challenges in transitioning to a net zero world.

At COP 27, there were rumours the UAE was ramping up its team and bringing in additional external expertise ahead of next year. This is certainly a good sign if COP 28 is to deliver the kind of groundbreaking outcomes the science now demands.


Felix Dodds and Chris Spence are co-editors of the new book, Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage (Routledge Press, 2022). It includes chapters on the climate negotiations held in Kyoto (1997), Copenhagen (2009) and Paris (2015).




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Are Climate Summits a Waste of Time?

Originally published in Inter Press Service here.

The 27th annual UN climate summit is taking place in November. Will it be worth all the time and effort? Professor Felix Dodds and Chris Spence—who have attended many of them—share what they’ve learned.

Next month, the latest annual United Nations climate extravaganza, COP27, will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Last year it was in Glasgow. Next year it will be held in (drum roll please) … Dubai!

These big climate events have been around a long time. Since 1995, there has been a climate COP (short for “Conference of the Parties”) every year except 2020, when it was postponed due to the Covid pandemic. Over the years, the COP roadshow has traveled far and wide. From Berlin to Buenos Aires, Kyoto to Cancun, and Bali to Marrakesh, the COPs have criss-crossed the globe with the aim of finessing new agreements to see off the specter of climate change.

These annual summits generate a lot of interest. The most recent in Glasgow attracted tens of thousands of participants. World leaders and celebrities often jet in  and join the throng, while the global media reports every move in the corridors of power and concerned citizens protest outside. And yet the COPs are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to UN-sponsored climate meetings. If you add the several preparatory meetings in the lead-up to the COPs, plus a host of workshops and other events by various expert technical groups, you’re easily looking at several dozen gatherings every year.

Each event is supposed to help us move the needle on climate change, keeping our warming world within the 1.5o Celsius threshold beyond which we face potentially catastrophic consequences. But what, exactly, do all of these many meetings accomplish? Are they really worth all this time and effort?

The climate bandwagon: Roll up for the never-ending world tour!

There are plenty of arguments against letting the climate circus continue its endless circuit. For a start, science tells us that in spite of all the many meetings held, we’re still on a dangerous path. Groups like Carbon Action Tracker estimate that we’re currently on track for somewhere between 1.8-2.7 oC, with the lower number representing their most optimistic—and least likely—scenario. This is clearly well above where we need to be.

Another common complaint is that UN climate COPs are mostly just talking shops; in Greta Thunberg’s words, too much “blah, blah, blah” and not enough action. For all the millions, even billions, of words uttered at these events, theyn often end in acrimony with little of substance agreed. Surely, the money used to hold these summits could be better spent on something else?

Even when agreement is reached, say the critics, there is no guarantee governments and other stakeholders will keep their pledges. History is littered with broken promises and diplomatic treaties that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

These arguments are all credible and we don’t disagree with any of them. But here’s the thing. For all their weaknesses and flaws, these summits actually matter a lot.

Like a rolling stone

First, the United Nations climate process has definitely moved the needle when it comes to our response to climate change. When the UN climate treaty was first signed in 1992, it triggered a wave of national laws, policies, and regulations that have rippled out across every country on earth. This process has started to shift almost every aspect of our modern economic system away from 200 years of reliance on fossil fuels.

Take our global energy systems, for instance. From being a niche market in the 1990s that could not compete on cost with coal, oil and gas-generated electricity, in 2020 solar power became the cheapest source of electricity in history. The technology behind both solar and wind have moved on in leaps and bounds since the 1990s, thanks in large part to the flow-on effects of international lawmaking. The much-maligned Kyoto Protocol of 1997, now largely superseded by the 2015 Paris Agreement, brought the private sector firmly into the equation, launching carbon markets and spurring private sector investment that has begun to reshape our global economy away from its reliance on fossil fuels.

From electric vehicles to power generation to building design, the number of changes catalyzed by our international work on climate change are too many too list. Probably the best metric for judging the UN climate summits, however, is their impact on long-term global warming. In recent years, projections for the expected long-term warming have fallen from as much as 4-6C before the Paris Agreement was inked, to around 1.8-2.7C now, assuming we implement pledges made at UN summits. And while anything above 1.5C is still very, very bad and the need for more action remains urgent, it’s not as unimaginably catastrophic as those higher numbers would be.

The worst approach … except for all the others

That’s not to say the UN climate process can’t be improved. Some people would like to see them shrunk back to their size in the early days, when just a couple of thousand people—key negotiators and a smaller number of other stakeholders—met in person. This, they say, would render it more manageable, reduce the carbon footprint, and make it less of a “circus.”

There are arguments on both sides here. While on the one hand it is true that arguably only a few hundred diplomats could handle the haggling over the official UN documents under negotiation, it is worth noting the impact those other participants can have.

For a start, many new pledges and promises are emerging on the sidelines of the official negotiations; “coalitions of the willing” wishing to make progress in specific sectors like, say, green investment, electric vehicles, reducing methane emissions or halting deforestation. These alliances of governments, private companies and other stakeholders are able to make advances in specific sectors where the official UN negotiations—which require consensus among more than 190 governments—cannot. The groups involved in such coalitions choose to network, negotiate, and announce their plans during the COPs because of the public interest in these events.

Attend just one of these COPs and you will soon notice how many connections are made, partnerships are formed, and ideas generated, by participants not involved in the formal UN business of treatymaking. The benefits of these meetings and collaborations are hard to measure, but certainly considerable.  

UN negotiations can often feel glacial. With the scientific community—and the daily news of extreme weather events around the world—reminding us of the need for urgency, it can feel like the discussions are going far too slowly. Obviously, there is much more to be done in a short space of time given that we are still hurtling towards some pretty frightening outcomes without more progress. Still, the UN process has made a difference and started to move the needle, even if is not yet happening fast enough.

And what are the alternatives? No single country or private entity stands a chance of dealing with this threat alone. Neither Amazon nor Google can conjure up an online answer to this type of problem. The US or China can’t “go it alone” and no coalition of governments has been able to deliver what’s needed. It is clear, therefore, that a multilateral, global process involving all governments and stakeholders presents our only chance of containing such a global threat.

Winston Churchill once described democracy as the worst form of government except for all the others. The same applies to multilateralism and climate change. It is flawed, frustrating and at times agonizingly slow. But it is still without doubt our last best hope of success. 

Stepping up

So what needs to happen at COP27 in Egypt? Many are describing it as the “implementation COP” where we begin to turn pledges and well-laid plans into action. There will be pressure for countries to come with bolder measures to reduce their national emissions and for wealthier nations to bring more money to the table when it comes to supporting the developing world. In particular, more support for adaptation, as well as financial help dealing with the loss and damage already wrought by climate change, will need to be addressed promptly.

We will also need to see inspired leadership. In our new book, Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy, we argue that dedicated and committed individuals can make a significant difference at these events. Examples from the recent past, such as the dedication of a handful of scientists and diplomats who helped create the Montreal Protocol and save the ozone layer, show that we can all play our part in turning the tide. More recently Christiana Figueres, the former head of the UN climate office and one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, is an example of the type of leadership that will be required at the next COP. Figueres is an advocate of “stubborn optimism” and the need to blend urgency with action. We agree. Persistence, combined with a belief that there is still time to make a difference, should be our guiding light during this critical time. 

Currently, the UK as hosts of COP26 still hold the climate presidency, which they will hand over officially to Egypt at the start of COP27 in November. Glasgow exceeded many insiders’ expectations, with Alok Sharma delivering a poised performance in spite of the UK’s recent domestic political turmoil. How will the incoming Egyptian presidency step up to the challenge? And how too will the new UN climate chief, Simon Stiell, approach this major meeting?

As we look to COP27 and beyond, we wonder who the heroes of tomorrow might be? With time running out, we need environmental champions now more than ever.

Prof. Felix Dodds and Chris Spence have participated in UN environmental negotiations since the 1990s. They co-edited Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage (Routledge, 2022).

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