Embracing the pain

An unflinching look at COP28


This is a special Thanksgiving-week post looking ahead to COP28. Be sure you’re subscribed for ongoing coverage of the talks when the newsletter resumes next week.

One week after Thanksgiving, on November 30th, this year’s international climate talks officially begin in Abu Dhabi, with our world increasingly on fire. The United Arab Emirates petrostate has been planning for this all year, during its Year of Sustainability (previous themes have included Tolerance, Reading, and Zayed), with a round of closed-door, formal talks there at the beginning of November, led by UAE oil chief Sultan Al Jaber.

The talks are a soup of acronyms that rival even those of Wikipedia editing.1 Perhaps the best way to get a sense of the deeply weird nature of these talks, which began in 1995, when atmospheric carbon dioxide was at 360 parts per million, and have dutifully whiled away into another millennium (420 ppm now), is to read Andrew Dana Hudson’s recently published science-fictional COP memoir, Our Shared Storm. The branching-future book takes place at a COP in 2054, under five distinct climate pathways envisioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

As it is now five years after the signing of the Paris Agreement, COP28 will see the first Global Stocktake, which will officially assess how well the world is doing at meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. As previewed last week, we are officially “severely off track.”

Climate scientists know they sound like a broken record as they report on broken records, as the newly released 14th United Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report admits:

The report finds that there has been progress since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Greenhouse gas emissions in 2030, based on policies in place, were projected to increase by 16 per cent at the time of the agreement’s adoption. Today, the projected increase is 3 per cent. However, predicted 2030 greenhouse gas emissions still must fall by 28 per cent for the Paris Agreement 2°C pathway and 42 per cent for the 1.5°C pathway.

Speaking of off track, the international talks on establishing a global plastics treaty collapsed last week in Nairobi. Petrostates stymied any concrete language, while the United States negotiators let corporate lobbyists from American petrochemical interests do the dirty work for them. The Center for International and Environmental Law identified 143 petrochemical lobbyists who were in attendance. The talks, formally the third session of the United Nations Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution, or INC-3, ended with a skeleton of a possible treaty, with the next round of talks (INC-4) to be held in Ottawa, Canada, in April 2024.

Taylor Swift is also negotiating with the climate: she canceled one of her Eras Tour concerts in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after fan Ana Clara Benevides Machado died from the record-shattering heat on Friday. Don’t worry, Swifties: Tay Tay added a performance yesterday, after the stadium changed its policies to allow concertgoers to bring water bottles. Swift’s cancelled concert is rising to the top of Billboard’s chart of the concerts hit by fossil-fueled storms, wildfire smoke, and floods in 2023.

Rock Creek Park, November 16, 2023. Credit: Robert Lintott

There are few people on this planet who better understand the challenge of seeing the fossil-fueled climate crisis clearly, without falling into despair or saccharine hope, than Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who shepherded the Paris Agreement in 2018. She recently related her spiritual journey as a global climate negotiator in an interview with On Being’s Krista Tippett:

How do we get to the point where we can choose to act out of being grounded in our emotions, which means understanding, embracing the pain, not looking away, definitely embracing the pain, the suffering that comes to us every single day; and, at the same time, understanding that that pain and that fear and that grief is what I would call an alarm bell. It’s an alarm bell to not sink into the bed covers again, but rather jump out of bed and generate the clarity of what needs to be done. And it is that grounding in our emotions that, again, puts those two things side-by-side: “Yes, I am in deep pain, and yes, precisely because of that, I am committed to do everything within my sphere of influence.”

My thanks to Lisa Renstrom for recommending this powerful conversation.

If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving, be careful—an intense, fossil-fueled storm is lashing the eastern seaboard today and tomorrow, after striking the south with tornadoes and thunderstorms. And please remember that you are loved.

Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word; I am grateful for everyone who is participating in this experiment in hope with me. Connect with me@[email protected] and @climatebrad.hillheat.com on BlueSky or threads.net/@climatebrad.

1 Formally, the COP 28 talks comprise five simultaneous meetings:

  • Twenty-eighth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 28)

  • Eighteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 18)

  • Fifth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 5)

  • Fifty-ninth session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 59)

  • Fifty-ninth session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 59)

Subscribe to Hill Heat

Climate science, policy, politics, and action

Join the conversation

or to participate.