Is COP 28 worth it?

At the UN's annual climate summit, it's time to build a bridge to a clean energy future

A vertical green sign reads COP28 at a building in Dubai

We must commit to a livable and just climate future

With the climate crisis at a moment of unmeasurable urgency, nations and negotiators at COP28 must commit to building the bridge to a livable climate future and bringing an end to the fossil fuel era. Send your message to world leaders at COP28

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It is no small irony that tens of thousands of people board airplanes and fly great distances to places like Scotland, Egypt, and UAE, thus emitting significant amounts of carbon pollution, to discuss how to solve the climate crisis. Every year the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) gather in a very large convention center for the Conference of the Parties, known as the COP. Outside of negotiations, organizations set up pavilions to house panel discussions on climate and create gathering places to network. The buzz of activity is extraordinary.

Many have lamented that this "sideshow" has superseded the COP negotiations in importance. Activist Greta Thunberg announced right before COP27 that she would no longer attend COP meetings as she viewed them as "not really meant to change the whole system," and therefore not worth her time.

And yet, we still go.

WWF sends observers to the negotiation rooms who watch the action closely. Every night our observers gather and discuss what happened that day, what it means, and what might be done to influence how things go forward. Just outside the negotiation rooms, the PandaHub is a source of information and education. There are presentations and discussions from experts around the world, hosted by our country offices. Everything from resilience work in Pakistan to protecting forests in the Amazon to transforming food systems in Asia.

The truth is that now that the negotiations are more focused on fine points of execution, the “sideshow” is more important than ever. By sharing success stories and lessons learned, the world is discovering together how to construct roadmaps for implementation. We have a lot to do. The amount of renewable energy that we need to bring online in the US alone is measured in thousands of gigawatts. The figures are so large that it's hard to visualize how those numbers look when they are made into real projects.

And that is exactly what many of the organizations presenting at COP, including WWF, are doing— demonstrating how to overcome the barriers and accelerate the implementation of these big, daunting plans, with impossible-sounding numbers when we actually start executing them.

Our work with America Is All In is a great example. Each year, America Is All In takes over the PandaHub and becomes a center to highlight the work of state and local governments, educational, religious and cultural institutions, businesses and tribal nations from across America. It’s one of the best examples of why COP is more than the actual negotiations—by bringing together new constituents from across all segments of society and all sectors of the economy and connecting them to an international audience, we can build networks that share knowledge and speed implementation.

This year’s COP is critical as an inflection point in the transition away from fossil fuels and towards a renewable energy economy. We need to rapidly scale clean energy, and we need to do it while minimizing harm to nature. Our analysis with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows that while the rapid deployment of wind and solar needed to meet Paris Agreement goals requires some conscious trade-offs, in the end, business as usual results in far more damaging nature loss. Sharing these findings in a global setting, and using them as inspiration to build more cooperation, is vital to fostering the decisive, action-oriented environment we need to meet the climate crisis.

It’s true that much of the real work of decarbonizing our economy, of reinventing the ways we make things, consume things, transport things, and dispose of things, does not happen at the COP. But we need a place like COP to bring all these disparate efforts around the world together. We need a venue in which to share successes and debrief failures, connect, collaborate, and make even more ambitious commitments. Honestly, if we didn’t have this opportunity presented by the COP, we’d probably have to invent it.

And so we go, again. Determined. Realistic. And above all, hopeful.