A year for climate conferences
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A year for climate conferences

Some people think that international climate conferences are nothing more than a talking shop. The Secretary General of the UN wants to change all that – with another conference.

Photo: Reuters

It is unclear if UN secretary-general António Guterres absolutely loves COPs or has had enough of them. During his end-of-year press conference, Guterres said he would convene another climate conference – the Climate Ambition Summit – in September 2023, two months ahead of when the now 28-year-old UN Climate Change conference usually takes place.

This won’t be your usual COP, however. No, no. This is a no-nonsense climate ambition summit (CAS?) for nations who will have to come armed with a portfolio of real solutions if they want to be let in.

“There will be no room for back-sliders, green-washers, blame-shifters or repackaging of announcements of previous years,” said Guterres, leaving us guessing if that was a dig at the oil states hosting the next edition of the climate COP or at the entire financial sector.

It is only a few weeks (yes, really) since the World Cup final, so it was perhaps unsurprising that Guterres found himself channelling the spirit of the half-time team talk by French captain Kylian Mbappé.

“This is not a time to sit on the side-lines; it is a time for resolve, determination and – yes – even hope,” said Guterres.

COP is now effectively a trade show for businesses, investors, educators, civil society groups and even artists

The new summit will take place alongside the UN General Assembly, during which the international community will assess progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The secretary-general might be onto something. After almost three decades of COPs, the event has morphed into a multi-faceted beast, with stakeholders from seemingly all corners of society. It is now effectively a trade show for businesses, investors, educators, civil society groups and even artists to reconvene and share ideas.

But despite all that, every year all eyes are on the first two days of the event, the period when political leaders take turns giving inspirational speeches and then huddle in breakout rooms to come up with murky multilateral plans that are ripe for allegations of greenwashing.

Why not take the state leaders out of the equation? Let them fight among themselves somewhere else about who the real climate champions are, and let a more practical conference illustrate what sustainability actually looks like: thousands of people and projects tackling all sides of the issue at once.

Sadly, that is not on the cards. Guterres has extended his invitation to leaders from the public, financial and business sectors, as well as representatives of civil society, so it is difficult to see the summit as anything other than a COP in all but name.

Changing the setting won’t make it any more likely that leaders will come up with solutions that are tangible and coordinated. Perhaps its time to stop the event-organising bandwagon and focus instead on doing what has been promised?

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