The Dubai Climate Conference (COP28) has already made history with its sheer size. Could these World Cup-like COPs be too much? Are we, instead of expanding participation and representation of the global society in negotiations, emptying these discussions and creating space for companies and lobbyists to have a field day?
By Bruno Toledo Hisamoto*
The increasing attention to climate issues has transformed the United Nations Climate Change Conferences (COPs) into events worthy of the world’s largest festivals, capable of accommodating more than 100,000 people. But is the path to a more participatory decision-making process through supercharged COPs?
COP28 is already marked as the Conference of excesses. Everything seems too much. Lots of people, many negotiation items, many rooms, many pavilions… too much of everything! To give you an idea, the Expo City Dubai complex hosting COP has over 3 km2 of space, twice the size of Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo. It circulates around 100,000 people, including negotiators, observers, activists, lobbyists, staff, etc. It is the largest COP ever held in terms of participants and the dimension of the space. Unlike Sharm el-Sheikh last year, everything is organized.
The environments, the flow of people, the infrastructure for food, the Wi-Fi connection. The national pavilions, usually classic event stands, are housed in specific buildings for each country, with rooms, bathrooms, and other amenities. In addition to the organization, the opulence also draws attention. The COP space has various restaurants, from more basic food options to more refined cuisine – and with much higher prices.
To facilitate movement, the organizers provided golf carts so that people could reach their destinations without breaking into a sweat. The air conditioning, essential in a desert climate country, is also powerful.
All this is good, but the growth of COPs in recent years is leading us to an unsustainable scenario. Few countries, even among the richer ones, have the financial and infrastructural conditions to organize something of this magnitude. It is a very high cost for an event with limited possibilities of return, from which the organizers are unlikely to come out in the black. That’s why Germany made it clear that it is not willing to host COP29 in 2024.
This was a possibility if the Eastern European countries did not reach an agreement on the host for the next Conference – in the end, Azerbaijan emerged as the host. Under the rules of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), when there is no agreement on the host, the COP ends up being held at the Secretariat’s headquarters, in the German city of Bonn.
The German government itself understands it does not have the financial conditions to organize the event in the magnitude it has acquired in recent years, citing fiscal problems. Moreover, it is worth noting, most of this expansion in the structures of the COPs did not occur due to greater participation by governments or civil society, but rather by companies and, as we now know, lobbyists from the fossil fuel and international agribusiness industries.
The corporate advance on the COP has turned the event into a large business fair, an occasion to seek new businesses, green or green-tinted. In practice, the traditional boundaries between negotiation spaces (blue zone, in UN parlance) and public discussion spaces (green zone) are surpassed. The supercharged blue zone is concentrating the mass of people participating in the COP, while the emptied green zone turns into a park with little public attention.
As it stands, COPs are becoming increasingly complex and costly events, with few countries capable of absorbing the impact. This is certainly a concern for Brazil, which will host COP30 in 2025. It is very difficult to envision something of the magnitude of this COP28 happening in Belém do Pará, even with two years of preparation.
At the same time, we need to discuss to what extent these huge conferences are useful for tackling the climate crisis. Could these World Cup-like COPs be too much? Are we, instead of expanding the participation and representation of the global society in negotiations, giving space for companies and lobbyists to have a field day?
Dubai shows us that we may be reaching a limit for the COPs.
- Bruno Toledo Hisamoto, PhD in International Relations from the University of São Paulo (USP), professor of international politics and economics, in an article published by Climainfo.org