Kit Vaughan tells Bridport his experience of being a delegate in Dubai.

Marshwood Vale resident and climate change and woodland coppicing expert Kit Vaughan has now attended 13 UNFCCC COPs.  He spoke in Bridport recently to share his perspective as an advisor to the Elders, a group set up by Nelson Mandela and now chaired by ex-Irish prime minister Mary Robinson.

The UAE seems like a city of gold, a desert mirage, possibly the wealthiest place on the planet.  It is a fitting place for the devotees of industrial growth, but quite controversial as the site for a world-wide conference on climate change.  Kit described to us the drive into the city with the tallest buildings on the planet, the petrol fumes, the smog and the gas flaring from the oil wells nearest to the city centre.

As a preface to describing the COP28 conference, Kit gave us three questions to mull over during the evening:

1) was COP 28 a breakthrough (as removing fossil fuels was mentioned in the final document for the first time) or was it a remarkable example of gaslighting by the hosts?

2) would the world be better off without UNFCCC COPs?

3) Do the outcomes of this international conference affect us (or not) in our local communities?

UNFCC COPs differ depending on where they are based, but one thing that has increased over the years is the numbers of non-delegates swelling from just a few thousand delegates to tens of thousands.  And also increasing is the number of lawyers, financial advisors, and corporate lobbyists.  Fossil fuel lobbyists alone numbered close to 2,500 in Dubai.  Kit’s description of the venue was amazing but alarming: a massive fully equipped conference village.  The sheer size and atmosphere of the place makes it sound more like a circus than an international meeting.  And this atmosphere causes you to wonder if the confusion genders deceit.  As the closing agreement was finally read out and gaveled through, the group that represents small island nations, AOSIS–who are some of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world–was not even in the room (making more than a slight mockery of the notion of “consensus of all the parties”). 

After the conference AOSIS answered Kit’s first question well when they said they had reached

the conclusion that the course correction that is needed has not yet been secured. We have made an incremental advancement over business as usual when what we really needed is an exponential step-change in our actions and support.

The second question was asked differently by Kelvin Clayton, town and Dorset councilor, when he asked Kit “do the delegates who come to COPs do so with the intension of saving the planet or with the intention of making themselves (their country, their stockholders) better off?”  Reducing carbon must be a global response and “you need some kind of forum” for that, was Kit’s answer, but he then mused “ but has the forum become the creature that we hoped to destroy”.

COP itself isn’t going to save our planet.  The quite daunting prospect that faces us needs cooperation at all levels. Many people are thoroughly disheartened by the international process.  Next year COP is in Azerbaijan, another autocratic petro-based country.  So do we get on with river monitoring, riding our bikes, re-using our plastic? Is this enough?  No, Kit would argue: that listening to what is happening and holding those in power to account is another necessary part of citizenship in an age of crisis. 

There are plenty of options to do this and we also have elections: in Dorset, in the UK, in the US.  2024 is a year that we can’t help but approach with trepidation, but feeling this way and not speaking out brings what we fear only closer.  Find some positive ways to move forward: check out Bridport’s green diary which is temporarily housed here:  

Of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to nuclear warfare, none is so great as the deadening of our response.     (Joanna Macy)

Kit listens to a comment from Lyme Regis councillor Rob Scott: