Copping it at COP28

Another year, another massive climate change conference under way which reflects much goodwill to do something about the problem but struggles every time to achieve it.

This year is the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change.

More than 60,000 people are expected to attend the two-week gathering in some form or another, be they world leader or government minister, environmental lobbyist or protester.

For the second consecutive year, COP is in the Middle East.

This time it is in Dubai, that glitzy opulent city in the United Arab Emirates built on wealth from oil production.

Last year it was about 2700km further west, in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh.

The obvious link to the extreme affluence which has come from the very fossil fuels largely to blame for the climate crisis has not escaped many.

For that reason, making decisions in Dubai which might ultimately lead to phasing out oil and natural gas will be very difficult, and probably very unlikely.

COP28 will have its own huge carbon footprint, underpinned by the significant quantity of air miles all those who attend are going to rack up.

It’s true that when it comes to getting global agreement on anything there is no getting round the benefits of people meeting face-to-face.

However, as tensions and emissions continue to rise, and formerly agreed targets seem to get harder to meet and fade from sight, perhaps we could look around for lower-emission ways to gather?

Could COP meetings run every two or three years instead of annually? Could they be held regionally with internet links to other regional COP gatherings? Could the numbers of attendees be capped at much lower levels?

Would any of those suggestions speed up business and reduce emissions? Probably not.

There are also the rising anxieties from many around the world that the climate crisis is getting worse and more immediate action is becoming necessary.

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters
With that in mind, there may even be a good argument for more, not fewer, regular talks.

Let’s park any accusations of a gravy train in the siding for now.

After all, we have been warned that the climate crisis is heading towards a climate catastrophe and that, as a planet, we are failing to do enough to ward off disaster.

The agreement made at COP21 in Paris in December 2015 remains the keystone.

Then, nations signed a legally binding treaty to cut emissions and limit the global average temperature increase to well below 2degC, preferably 1.5C or lower, above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

But we are not doing very well. Unfortunately, record high temperatures during the past year are already sneaking us closer to that 1.5C figure than anyone would want and, according to The Guardian, closer than at any time in at least the last 100,000 years.

Enter our new climate change minister Simon Watts, just a few days into what many concerned citizens will consider to be one of the most important roles in the government.

Mr Watts is off to COP28, armed no doubt with a bunch of good intentions and a nervous smile, but wearing a millstone round his neck in the form of his government’s plan to reopen our waters for oil and gas exploration.

He could well be welcomed with open arms by the oil-producing UAE.

But that policy will go down like a lead balloon which has run out of clean, green hydrogen with many of those at COP.

Our new minister told RNZ he wasn’t expecting to cop it.

He said New Zealand was moving away from fossil fuels but needed some transitional capacity while it did so, and better to use local natural gas than Indonesian coal.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has made a bad move by appointing a climate change minister outside Cabinet.

True, Green Party co-leader James Shaw was not in Labour’s Cabinet, but in Mr Watts’ case he is actually a National MP.

As much as we wish Mr Watts well at the conference, his leader’s decision to keep him out of Cabinet gives the impression that the new government is not all that bothered by the biggest challenge facing our world.