By: Haley Coleman
The UN has a reputation of unproductiveness. But that seems impossible. How can an organization with so much legitimacy, so many credible participants possibly be a waste of time? As a Model UN kid throughout middle school, high school, and university, I was adamant that the UN represents the greatest achievement of global cooperation. So the opportunity to attend COP28 seemed like the perfect place to affirm my faith in global diplomacy.
That said, the irony was undeniable. Throughout the conference, I was constantly aware of the blatant greenwashing of a climate conference headed by a fossil fuel tycoon. If it wasn’t the aggressive solar panels arranged at every entrance, or the clusters of local kindergarteners toddled out to “lead the new generation,” or the brilliant fountains celebrating the importance of water conservation by gushing out countless tons of treated water per day, something more subtle seemed to be painfully artificial about the message of sustainability. Panelists flew in on private jets from around the world and tossed around words like “multifaceted solutions,” “global partnership,” and “synergy” while sipping from plastic water bottles in 70 degree rooms. The sound of cheesy motivational music and lectures on “Sustainable Yachting” left a jarring impression of superficiality.
All of this sounds like enough to stifle any productive discourse, but I noticed the opposite. I had dozens of conversations with artists, philanthropists, financial consultants, entrepreneurs, all willing to fly to Dubai and transit an hour to EXPO city every day to talk about climate change.
Even though the environment of the venue posed its own irony, I don’t think it’s fair to assume it was done in bad faith. I have full confidence that 80,000 people would not join a zoom link or make the trek to sit in an amphitheater in the middle of the desert. Whatever happens inside the negotiation zone with representatives of major nations seemed almost at the periphery of the conference. The main event was the conversations happening among people and organizations to affirm and inspire climate solutions. Voluntary action will not solve climate change, but more substantial policy change stems from social pressure. This conference taught me that cultivating a sustainable mindset, universally, indiscriminately, is the key to climate change. When we antagonize oil companies and contributors of climate change, they become defensive, and all negotiations are off the table. So say what you want about the effectiveness of UN resolutions, but it is hard to deny that it represents one of the only spaces where the president of an oil company will sit across from environmental activists, eye to eye, and talk about decarbonization.