COP28: UN summits are ‘imperfect’, but all we’ve got to work with in the global fight against climate change, says Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie
In an exclusive interview with The Scotsman ahead of the start of COP28, which began on Thursday in Dubai, Scotland’s minister for net zero buildings highlighted the importance of the talks and the value of sending a delegation from Scotland – despite the country having no official seat at the negotiating table, instead coming under the UK’s remit.
First Minister Humza Yousaf and net zero secretary Mairi McAllan are both attending, accompanied by Scottish business leaders from various sectors, but Mr Harvie will not be there.
He has experienced a COP first-hand, however – in 2021, when the UK held the presidency and staged the two-week conference in Glasgow.
“I think it's absolutely essential that we are there,” he said. But Mr Harvie admitted the way the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its annual Conference of the Parties (COP) function could be more effective.
“We clearly need a multilateral international framework for taking forward climate policy,” he said. “It exists and so we have to make the best use of it we can.”
He said the Scottish contingent’s trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) could potentially bring new opportunities for helping Scotland’s progress towards green goals, like increasing renewable energy.
“There will be businesses there who we need to reach and let them see that Scotland is serious about this journey,” Mr Harvie said. “Scotland wants to work with them.”
But he criticised COP summits, as an international process aimed at spurring action on climate change – which is caused primarily by burning coal, oil and gas – for allowing too much access to the fossil fuel lobby.
His words come amid ongoing controversy surrounding the suitability of the UAE, as one of the world’s top ten oil-producing nations, to host COP28 and their appointment of Dr Sultan al-Jaber, who was boss of its state-owned oil giant Adnoc, as president of the talks.
Mr Harvie said: “It [COP] gives too much space to the voices of businesses that have caused the problem. It gives not enough space to the voices of the communities around the world who are most immediately impacted by the climate emergency – less developed countries, those which are at most immediate risk of, in some cases, literally being wiped off the map.”
The Greens co-leader said it was “quite valid” to criticise the system, which has also “very often moved at the pace of the slowest, instead of the pace that the science demands”.
He added: “We’ve had 28 of them. Other than in the pandemic, we haven't really seen a global reduction in fossil fuel emissions.
“We haven't seen that as being a successful process over 28 years, and the level of urgency that is left now. If we had actually started making global emissions reductions 28 years ago, at the start of this process, we could have done it slowly and easily and probably more cheaply.”
Mr Harvie added: “But it is the international framework that we’ve got. It is the space in which we can not only take part in those discussions, but hopefully shape those discussions. We have to make the best use of it we can, whatever reservations we have about the track record.”
The International Energy Agency has repeatedly warned that for the global target of net zero emissions by mid-century – which is central to the Paris Agreement, signed at COP21 – oil and gas use must go into managed decline, with no new oil and gas fields approved for development beyond those already in existence.
Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization has said it is “virtually certain” this year will break previous records to become the new hottest year in human history. Every month since June has shown the highest monthly global air temperature on records stretching back around a century.
The eight warmest years have all occurred since 2014, with 2016 and 2020 previously tied as the hottest recorded.
King Charles III and representatives from the UK Government are among nearly 170 world leaders expected to attend COP28, which runs until December 12.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.