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Does COP28 mean we're less screwed?

First published in Political Capital - our weekly public affairs and polling news drop.

COP28 Lansons Blog

Sam Sharpe, Board Director and Sustainability Lead at Lansons, discusses the latest developments from COP this week, arguing that what we’ve seen so far might prove the sceptics wrong in thinking nothing will come from it.

Does COP28 mean we’re less screwed? 

Optimistically, I’m going to say yes. 

Whilst the sceptics (and there were a lot of them - with just 11% of Brits expecting results from COP28) predicted a languid, low-action COP, what we’ve seen so far this week might just put them back in their box. Some big global names are not holding back, with John Kerry remarking: “it’s time for adults to behave like adults and get the job done.”

Has anyone told Rishi that? While the rest of the world is talking about the future of the planet, our leader is focused on boats. Of course it’s a massive issue, but let’s not kid ourselves; if Britain has issues with immigration now, then wait ten years and see the impact of unambitious climate policy.

Both Keir and The King outlasted Rishi at COP (but then 11 hours is not a high bar). Yes there’s no Joe Biden or Xi Jinping - but there are large senior US and Chinese delegations. While many have publicly called out a lack of political leadership in the UK on climate, Rishi Sunak says that the conversations he had in Dubai didn’t reflect those criticisms…

What the COP and climate journey has taught us in recent years is that words matter. They set the tone and send signals. Rishi can talk pragmatism and non-burdening policy all he likes, but the words he’s chosen in recent months have not signalled commitment, courage or leadership. ‘Pragmatism’ feels like code for attempting to win seats - although recent polling data from blue wall and marginal constituencies shows concern for climate and nature in these areas is actually higher than the national average.

Al Gore has been banging this drum politically since 1976. He’s said this week that we are using our atmosphere as a sewer. And it’s not an exhaustive sewer - if you walk straight up, you’d be at the top in an hour. Christina Figueres has used the analogy of being at a feast, with people throwing down crumbs in a bid to sort the climate and nature crisis. Ten years ago, crumbs would have been ok - today, crumbs equal a one-way trip to Mordor.

Of course, the biggest question over wording is if we’ll swap ‘down’ for ‘out’ when it comes to fossil fuels. And does it matter? Yes, it does - it sends a signal to national and federal governments, businesses and the public. Getting there, however, may involve moving to a consensus, rather than unanimous, decision mechanism. I’m staying optimistic, but we’ll be watching progress closely as COP rumbles on.


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