COP28 update: Approaching climate change through the head and the heart

Angelina Heil is currently an intern at the Arava Institute’s Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy, researching the feasibility of a new approach to Israeli-Palestinian cooperation via the new mechanisms introduced in Article 6.2 and 6.4 of the Paris Climate Agreement. She is one of the Institute’s delegates at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai (COP28), and will be sharing regular thoughts and updates from the conference.  

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting to get different results the second time around. From this perspective, the international community is practicing insanity every year at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, hoping and partly expecting, that whatever wasn’t implemented last year and the year before, could do so this time. On the other hand, it would be even greater insanity not to act, and to refrain from continuously pushing for sustainable results. Climate change is not only reflected in science and numbers but rather its effects can be seen in all the extreme weather events and the human and ecological disasters they entail. In this fight for change, the climate justice movement has tried to win the narrative by facts, figures, science, rationality, and policy proposals and so on – which of course, are all highly present at COP28, especially as this year the first global stock take is rolled out, highlighting the severity of the climate crisis. It is important, however, to not focus the narrative only on the head, but also on the heart, the body, the mind and the soul. Indeed, it is beyond easy to get lost in the massive scale of COP28 in Dubai – which in terms of size is the biggest conference of the parties yet. The venue is extremely large, and it would take days to attempt to visit every sight in the Blue Zone, the area overseen by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Much of the global coverage has questioned this scale of the event and the resulting carbon emissions that are being produced. However, perhaps this massive scale is what allows for the heart to enter the conversation. 

Yesterday, shortly after lunch time, while I was wandering the open streets of the giant COP28 venue, I met a group of representatives of indigenous tribes and communities, mostly from the International Indian Treaty Council. Just shortly after, French President Emmanuel Macron walked by and engaged in conversation with them: In the middle of the corridor under the full-fledged sun, the tribe representatives were able to meet French President Emmanuel Macron and voice their concern, anger, and fear, in the face of the climate crisis and perceived lack of support by the international community in their fight for climate justice. Slowly, a full-on conversation head-to-head between the French President and the indigenous community leaders developed wherein Emmanuel Macron eventually made the promise to be their “number one advocate” – in the eyes of the International Indian Treaty Council a huge win. It is in seemingly unimportant meetings like these that the beauty of the COP truly becomes evident. It unites world leaders from civil society, businesses and political leadership in one place, making it not only possible to pass much-needed legislation but also allow for actual dialogue to take place, for different voices to be heard, for conversations from and to the heart. 

We know from our work in the Middle East as well that often the local perspective on the ground is forgotten, civil society and NGOs are either completely excluded from the decision-making process, or, if at all, merely consulted for commentary. In the fight against climate change, it is evident that in order to do so in a socially just way, all stakeholders must be included. We need “all hands on deck”; we need the unions, both sectoral workers and general trade; we need the NGOs of indigenous groups, of women, of local communities representing those most affected by the climate disasters unfolding. A sustainable transition must come from within and from all of society, which requires dialogue and communication, from the mind and from the soul.  

With the legislative break-through still hanging in the air, I am truly inspired by the sense of dialogue, particularly between civil society representatives that is taking place. Every day new working groups are being formed. At 2pm today, for instance, I will be joining a meeting of different local African community leaders, particularly from Niger and Nigeria, connecting with European representatives. I can’t wait to update on what fruitful connections might be able to be drawn from there. 

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