Sound Reasons for Cautious OptimismDecember 18, 2023
Public AccountabilityDecember 19, 2023
An Article By Ian Kilbride
Apart from members of your own family, who is the most important person in the world? Is it Joe Biden, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, the Pope, Elon Musk, or maybe Sean Dyche? For me, a serious contender is a little-known man called Simon Stiell.
A Grenadian former politician, Stiell serves as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and in a real sense, holds all our futures in his hands. Like all bureaucratic positions, his formal job description is as vague as the sorites paradox, but his actual role and purpose in life is to ensure that the world moves towards achieving its critical climate change target of keeping global warming below 1,5c from its pre-industrial levels. No pressure then! Stiell’s relative obscurity and with all due respect, coming from a country with little political clout off the cricket field, is an advantage when attempting to shepherd some 200 parties, (member states) and 85, 000 attendees to the convention through the narrow gate of consensus.
Customarily, it is the President of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) that captures the limelight of success, or cops the flack of failure, but as in all successful enterprises, it is the backroom staff that do much of the hard yards necessary to achieve success.
So, with this in mind, can we conclude that the CoP28 recently held in Dubai was a success, and do we owe Simon Steill, together with conference President Sultan al-Jabar (Chief Executive of the state-owned oil company no less), a debt of gratitude? On balance, yes.
The reason for this is that for the first time, the CoP agreed to “transition away from fossil fuels”. This may seem an obvious statement the merits of which are well understood by most informed people, but the real significance of the statement lies in the fact that it is enshrined in the final text as a commitment, albeit a frustratingly vague one. The immediate (valid) criticism that can be and was levelled by some 100 parties was that it avoids a firm commitment to “phase out” fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. But what we have learnt from 30 years of climate change politics, is that “to travel further, you have to travel together” as the old African adage teaches us.
The obvious question is “How exactly do parties intend transitioning away from fossil fuels and achieve net zero by 2050”? Here again, the answer emerging from CoP28 is encouraging, albeit too vague.
The major thrust towards transitioning comes from a massive upscaling of the investment in green energy technology. Parties committed to tripling their investment in renewables by 2030. The magnitude of this commitment will require annual global investment to reach $1,2 trillion by 2030. Remarkably, this commitment was the least controversial of all agreements at CoP and the only one in which parties, business and NGOs could agree on. Indeed, without reducing the struggle for climate justice to cornucopian solutions, green technology and finance must become the central thrust of any solution.
As the UNFCCC concluded at the close of the CoP, “We didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era, but this outcome is the beginning of the end”.
So, in conclusion, allow me to send a message to arguably the most important person in the world, “Mr Stiell, my childrens’ future is in your hands, Sir. Don’t mess it up!