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COP28 was a reset, but we must continue to work together

By Noora Firaq on December 18, 2023

Many people see COP conferences as professional events. But as climate change affects more and more of our everyday life, it’s becoming harder to separate the personal from the professional. Climate Outreach Deputy CEO, Noora Firaq, reflects on COP28.

Multistakeholder dialogue hosted by SHE Changes Climate at COP28
Photo credit: SHE Changes Climate

Welcome to my world. For me, attending COP28 was both a personal and a professional commitment. Personal because I have been involved with climate conversations from a young age. I grew up in the Maldives. On my island, the climate crisis affects all aspects of our lives: our health, security, food and shelter. My loved ones are fighting to stay above water.

Professional because as a senior leader in a climate NGO, this is my daily bread and butter. I was at COP on behalf of Climate Outreach to remind our leaders that how we address climate change is a task like no other. And people are key to how we do it. Yet all too often people are left out.

I spent my fortnight inviting global leaders to unlock progress by putting people back in the picture. This means actively involving people in all plans to address climate change.  So as I digest the outcome back at home, of course I’m thinking about the fossil fuel transition. But everyone’s talking about that. I want to highlight that this isn’t the only important outcome from COP. 

First of all, the good news. We can’t speak about COP28 without celebrating the adoption of loss and damage fund operationalisation plans on day 1 of COP28! That was a moment that made history! 

And then the less good news. There is a lot of talk around inclusivity, but one event at COP28 spoke volumes. A decision on the text around limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees was gavelled through in the absence of key stakeholders, who were still discussing the issue outside the room. The 39 island states’ Lead Negotiator Anne Rasmussen reflected the pain of many when she spoke about being excluded from this decision. 

I too am deeply saddened by this incident, and the weak text around limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, already a compromise to many island states. Whilst a technology implementation programme is a great step forward at a global level, it doesn’t go far enough in safeguarding the most vulnerable countries from rising temperatures and sea levels. 

I also feel saddened by a lack of recognition for key players in the negotiations. The UAE’s chief climate negotiator, Hana Alhashimi and the International Union for Conservation of Nature President, Razan Al Mubarak did not receive due credit and visibility for their tireless efforts in making this historic global agreement happen. COP28 has proven multilateralism works, but this lack of visibility and recognition reminds me that we still have a long way to go when it comes to fair representation and inclusion in these spaces, particularly for women and the most vulnerable. 

But some progress is being made on this front too. Last week, as COP28 entered the tense final days, I appreciated the COP28 Presidency convening a majlis to foster “heart to heart” discussions. The format and proceedings of the majlis itself were deeply rooted in the long traditions of Arabic culture and holding spaces within circles of trust role modelled at the High-Level Multi Stakeholder dialogue on 50:50 Balance, Building Trust and Radical Collaboration for People and Planet, convened by She Changes Climate, Dandelion Project and Kite Insights. It’s a subtle change to business-as-usual but it’s a profound step in making multiculturalism inclusive. 

UN climate summits are physically and emotionally challenging for many of us. Throughout COP, there are moments of highs and lows. By the end of week one, I felt that we all needed a boost of positivity and camaraderie. We needed a reminder that the Paris Agreement was borne out of hope and willpower. To my delight, Global Optimism and the B Team initiated a call to action. More than 2,000 signatories from across business, finance, philanthropy, politics, academia and civil society joined forces to call on COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber and all Parties to deliver a 1.5C aligned outcome in response to the Global Stocktake – because later is too late. The letter also offered suggestions for the kind of language we need to see around fossil fuels, finance and biodiversity. Signing this letter and working with this amazing team of courageous people to garner support gave me the hope and optimism I needed at that point. I was pleased to hear the language from this letter resonating with world leaders at the majlis.

Since coming home, I’ve heard lots of commentators and activists talk about these talks being a failure. About the process being broken. All I can say is, they clearly didn’t see a lot of what I saw. 

I cannot end my reflections without saluting the negotiators from all around the world. Their energy and passion is infectious and admirable. They spend their time away from their families and loved ones, dedicated day and night to the COP negotiations. They sleep and rest very little. They start the day super early to beat hour-long queues and carry on negotiating through the night. In the corridors and meeting rooms of COP, negotiators and their support teams connect at a human level. These are the spaces where you get to know them personally, offer support and solidarity for the tireless work they do on behalf of their people and humanity. 

Climate change has no borders. It affects us all. This sentiment is very much reflected within the COP negotiating community. I am very grateful for the love, warmth and solidarity the COP community has shown me at COP28. This is where you see the best of humanity and diplomacy working to save all of us. 

It reflects what I have seen so many times in my home in the Maldives. That the worst impacts of climate change can bring out the best in us. And I know we’ll only get through this if we work together – as communities, countries, global citizens. 

What we owe these negotiators and activists now is delivery of finance for climate resilience, adaptation and loss damage funds that were promised at COP28 (and previous COPs) by developed countries, private and public sector actors. 

And we need to tell, and keep on telling people the story of this COP and all COPs. That ultimately this isn’t a science story. It’s a people story, about all of us. The COP negotiators have helped reset our path. It’s up to all of us what happens next.

One response to COP28 was a reset, but we must continue to work together

  1. Chris Martin says: says:

    Thanks for this positive reporting from COP28 – looking for ways to create positive narratives that are meaningful for local communities in Birmingham.

By Noora Firaq

Noora is Climate Outreach’s Deputy CEO. She leads on organisational development and business strategy of Climate Outreach and works closely with the board and other senior leaders.

Noora is from the Maldives – one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world due to the country’s natural land scarcity and low-lying geography. Having experienced how people and communities are adapting to climate change, Noora is passionate about having an inclusive conversation about how we tackle climate change as a global community.

After Business and Law School, she started her career at Financial Ombudsman Service (UK). She has worked in charities, co-operatives, and ethical finance in the UK. Through her diverse career experiences, she has developed a passion for organisational behaviour, transformation and leadership and has completed the Executive Leadership programme at Oxford University, Saïd Business School. She is always looking for innovative ways of working to facilitate teams to create impact.

Her first language is Dhivehi and she tries hard not to forget her Sinhalese from the days when she lived in Sri Lanka. In her free time, she loves to spend time with her friends, read and go for walks.

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