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News, Blogs & Press Releases » COP28: will genuine progress be made?

COP28: will genuine progress be made?

Our Chief Executive Richard McIlwain previews COP28, which started today in the United Arab Emirates.

As COP28 gets underway – this year being held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – the Vegetarian Society team will, once again, be keeping abreast of the key events and commitments. We’ll provide daily updates via social media and a summary report at the end of the event, with a particular focus on food, nature and agriculture.

Will genuine progress be made? Will the big players – the US, the EU, and China – lead the way? What commitment will rapidly developing economies such as India make? Will poorer nations receive the finance and support they are promised? And of particular interest, will reform of the global food system – responsible for around one-third of greenhouse gas emissions – now be prioritised?

In the run up to COP28, the UN rather helpfully took the opportunity to raise the stakes by releasing their annual Emissions Gap Report. It made for sobering reading:

  • Without further action, beyond emissions cuts already promised, the world faces a 2.5–2.9°C rise in temperature this century.
  • The chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C is now only 14%.
  • Global greenhouse gas emissions actually rose 1.2% from 2021 to 2022.

This scale of temperature rise would be catastrophic for much of the world’s population, particularly for people living in the Global South. But the threat of rapidly melting ice-sheets, rising sea levels, disruptive weather patterns and disrupted harvests should concern each and every one of us. The UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres, a man never afraid to state his mind, put it neatly when he said: “Present trends are racing our planet down a dead-end 3°C temperature rise. The emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon.”

Of course, some progress is being made. In the run up to COP15 in Paris, temperature rises well above 3°C were being discussed. But it all feels achingly slow, with the usual vested interests such as fossil fuel and the livestock industries acting as a brake on progress. As if to emphasise this point, a report from the Centre for Climate Reporting – together with the BBC – stated that the UAE planned to use COP28 as a platform for pitching oil and gas deals to foreign governments, to stringent denials from the host nation.

As ever, we must remain positive. After all, this level of economic and societal change delivered at a global scale was never going to be straightforward. The UN’s Climate Change Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell, took a strident tone when stating: “It’s great that over 160 world leaders are coming, but COP28 cannot be just a photo-op. Leaders must deliver in Dubai – the message is clear. And as leaders leave Dubai after the opening summit, their message to their negotiators must be equally clear: don’t come home without a deal that will make a real difference.”

Of course, talk is cheap, but there is further reason for optimism:

  • The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation will release its food and agriculture ‘roadmap’ to achieving 1.5°C (at least someone remains optimistic…).
  • For the first time, the issue of food will get its own dedicated day as part of the thematic programme developed for the conference, with Sunday 10 December given over to debates on food, agriculture and water.
  • There are once again several pavilions in the Blue and Green conference zones, hosting a range of workshops and debates on food systems transformation.
  • It appears that two–thirds of the food served across the conference will be plant-based.
  • And with lots of discussion focused on the role of livestock within a new sustainable future, we’ll be on the lookout for any positive signals from the dairy industry that they are minded to change their industrial farming model, to one that has sustainability and ethics at its core.

Just a comment on the last point of the bullet points above. It’s a curious phenomenon that many of the environmental events I attend now prioritise plant-based catering. And yet, despite this obvious nod to what a sustainable food system looks like, very few speakers or workshops at these same events then focus directly on the need for a transition away from meat consumption. It can therefore feel like nothing more than virtue signalling: “We know greater consumption of plant-based foods is the way forward! Look at our buffet! But we don’t want to talk about it or be seen to champion it!” I wonder who they are afraid of upsetting…

Anyway, look out for our regular updates on social media. At the end of the conference we’ll round up all of the key action and commitments in one easily digestible package.

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