Opinion - December 4, 2023

COP 28 opening summit: The mirage of authority

Written by Bertrand Piccard

In the plenary hall of COP 28, I listened attentively to the official speeches made by the Heads of State at the opening of the summit. And I have to say, I found it a little sad. What a gap between words and reality; between good intentions and results!

In Dubai, they talk about everything they'd like to do. They mention everything they've already done. But the reality is that we can't really see the results, since CO2 emissions continue to rise, as does pollution. Poverty, too, is back on the rise worldwide.

In fact, these leaders are nothing more than men and women with infernal burdens on their shoulders. Some have wars on their doorsteps. Almost all have financial problems, economic problems, unemployment, inflation... And here they are, facing the whole world, with yet another problem to deal with: climate change.

When you see them at the opening of the COP, taking turns at the podium in an impeccably regulated protocol, you get a disturbing impression. You'd think they had a lot of power. But do they really? Perhaps they have a lot less than we think, subject as they are to so many swirling winds. Environmentalists on one side, public and private economic interests on the other, not to mention the imperative to please in order to be re-elected. So, rather than decision-makers having an impact, we often guess the referees of a match between several teams who don't necessarily follow the rules of the game. 

As a result, the power lies elsewhere. Talking to some of them, I realized just how much their hands are tied, and how afraid they are of opposition, public or private, when they get home.

Meanwhile, the world is not standing still. Climate problems are already outpacing efforts to remedy them. If we carry on like this, there's only one way out, and it's not a very happy one.

Ironically, those who spoke most clearly at the Summit were not those with the most power, those responsible for the destiny of a state, however large. Who was it who delivered a sweeping indictment of fossil fuels? The Secretary General of the United Nations, who was listened to but not followed. Who set the example by banning imports of products derived from deforestation? The European Union, a supra-national organization. Who spoke frankly to the oil and gas companies, making them responsible for decarbonization? It was the president of COP 28, who is the boss of a fossil fuel company.

If power is fragmented, what's needed is to bring the pieces together. To have just one team to coach. If they are to overcome the multiplicity of challenges they face, managers need tools that federate the forces at play.

These tools exist today. Renewable energies, the price of which has collapsed, and clean technologies, which enable huge financial savings to be made by reducing waste. This should bring together left-wing parties committed to defending the most disadvantaged, and right-wing parties to whom we are offering new industrial opportunities, not forgetting those for whom the priority is energy sovereignty.

All that remains is to use the right language. By promoting the benefits of climate action rather than just the urgency of it, they can then rally different sections of society to the common cause. By talking about profitable solutions rather than costly problems. 

It's now up to the negotiators to step up to the plate, the private sector to get involved, the institutions to exert pressure, and it's this, more than the opening speeches, that will define the success of the Conference. We'll be talking more about this in the next few days, as we see the progress made on the ground. And, tirelessly, we will continue to advocate a realistic and efficient ecology.

 All in all, I found these two days more interesting on a psychological level than on a purely climatic one.

First published by La Tribune,  EFFE Verde and Forum Nachhaltig Wirtschaften.

Written by Bertrand Piccard on December 4, 2023

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