UNCOP28 at a time of international stress and vivid suffering

Dec 7, 2023
COP 28 in Dubai United Arab Emirates world cloud Image: iStock/ ricochet64

At UNCOP28, clear-eyed, we persist. And not without hope. There is a saying; ‘Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will.’ The time to have an influence comes and goes. Like life itself… Therefore it is best to live by the highest one can conceive when one has the opportunity!

I am at the UNCOP28 in Dubai.

This is the second COP I have attended. The other was in Madrid, transferred from Chile and prior to the global pandemic.

This one is much bigger, as are the stakes. Being in a very hot place, even in Dubai’s winter should focus minds!

Bigger but it is also a quite lovingly benign international community. As one wanders about, my association is with the Camino pilgrimage towards Santiago de Compostela!

This pilgrimage community is better dressed. Speaking points more than rosary’s falling out of pockets.

It was a bleak experience for an Australian in Madrid. The then Government was disputing the need for targets. Not even ‘net zero by the end of time’ would have been acceptable.

Subsequently the Prime Minister of that time was drawn into target-land by international pressure, around the time of the COP in Glasgow.

‘Net zero by 2050’.

The purpose of this COP, consistent with the Paris Agreement, is to encourage the highest possible political ambitions. The quality of co-operation, which led to the Paris Agreement, envisaged this time in 2023 when nations would again come together and scale up their ambitions.

Hopefully, transparently, so that, together as a global family, we do all that is necessary to achieve the envisaged goals: containing the rise in temperatures to that 1.5 degrees target by cutting carbon emissions as fast as possible; reaching net zero asap; offering practical help to those facing ‘loss and damage’ from the current consequences of climate change and doing all this with fair-minded support for those facing issues of adaptation and mitigation.

It is a huge agenda at a time of international stress and vivid suffering, some of it not far from Dubai.

Yesterday I listened, for hours, to the negotiations as regards the inclusion of language and details for a ‘just transition’ in the ‘global stocktake’. This too was part of what the Paris Agreement envisaged for COP 28.

It is a complex process to achieve the necessary consensus and we are still in the first week of COP.

Of encouragement were the positive provisions introduced by the Australian negotiators.

For me personally, even that is such a relief, given past experiences.

Australia is trying to be a beneficial presence at COP. Our team of diplomats and negotiators, as in Madrid and as I have listened to this team, prior to COP28, are all so capable and conscientious. The Minister, Chris Bowen, whom some of us faith leaders met in Canberra in mid November, is encouraging and is himself modelling the necessary ambitious leadership.

An example, this first week of COP, is the announcement regarding a scaling up of ambitions on renewables.

Of course this comes with political risk, as the Opposition’s responses demonstrate.

A lot has happened since the last Federal Election and the entrance into Parliament of the ‘Teals’ with their commitment to preventing catastrophic climate change.

There is much real anxiety now, provoked by domestic cost of living pressures and by the suffering of terrible new wars. Our social cohesion is challenged, unexpectedly, in the aftermath of the referendum and the events since October 7.

In this context, it seems the Opposition is gaining traction as they raise doubts, including about our transition to renewables.

I was reminded this week of the sanguine comment of a European politician, a few years back, regarding the necessary policies that will accomplish the Paris Agreement.

Jean Claude Juncker, former European Commission president’s comment was: “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we do it!”

As has also been said, long term in democracies is the time to the next election!

One related and concluding reflection in this context.

Given my vocation, I have obviously listened to many funeral eulogies. These funerals have included former politicians. I remember former Victorian Premier John Cain’s advice, remembered at his funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral.

It was about the ephemeral nature of political leadership. The time to have an influence comes and goes. Like life itself… Therefore it is best to live by the highest one can conceive when one has the opportunity!

It seems unlikely but we can still hope that we will have bipartisan cooperation on climate change ahead of the next election. In my case, I yearn for this every time I look at my grandchildren and their friends, all under ten.

There is a saying; ‘Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will.’

Clear-eyed, we persist.

And not without hope.

So, two cameos to close.

I listened to the Leader of the Opposition at a November Prayer Breakfast in Parliament. He spoke softly and compassionately, after we had listened to the testimony of Danny and Leila Abdullah.

This beautiful couple have practiced sustained forgiveness towards the driver who’s mistake led to the death of their precious children.

On the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, ahead of a recent funeral, I had the opportunity to thank our Prime Minister for his leadership. I had in mind this matter as well as the referendum; better relationships with nations, near and far… just the general effort he was giving to a positive future for all.

His face softened… There was a glimpse, here too, into a beauty of soul.

If we all, including our political leaders, live from our truest self and try to say and do only that which we genuinely believe is beneficial, what a nation we can still be…!

In that spirit, we persist!

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