The waves of phoney positivity emanating from CoP28 in Dubai are making me feel sick. “Look at our shiny new Loss and Damage Fund”. “Marvel at the new Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture”. “Get your heads around new heights of rhetoric about the importance of addressing the methane challenge”.

I hate to be yet another CoP grinch, but please hold on the champagne for a little bit longer. It’s taken decades for these three “breakthroughs” to land at a CoP – and their impact will be about as minimal as world leaders could get away with. Why:

  1. Great to see the Loss and Damage Fund coming into existence – but the commitments promised (of around $400 million) are pathetic. Financial damage caused by climate change every year is already around $400 billion – 1,000 times as much, and rising every year.
    Abu Dhabi set out to set the right example, promising $100 million – precisely one-eighth of the profits generated by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) in 2022.
  2. The Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture sounds great, but all that has been agreed (by 130 countries) is to include emissions of greenhouse gases in their official Net Zero strategies. But no targets, no agreement on priorities, and (perish this thought!) no proper recognition of the need massively to reduce meat consumption.
  3. On methane, it’s now two years since the Global Methane Pledge was signed (at CoP26 in Glasgow). Not much has happened since then – in fact, emissions of methane have significantly increased! But don’t worry – we now have a new target to cut methane emissions down to “near zero by 2030” and to eliminate routine gas flaring.
    These new commitments were coordinated by ADNOC (the CEO of which is, of course, Sultan Al Jaber, moonlighting as CoP28 President), which is currently one of the worst flaring offenders anywhere in the world, despite lying through its teeth for years that it had already eliminated all flaring from its facilities.

I set out yesterday to manage my nausea by catching up on news of the latest Just Stop Oil protests, including a protest outside Rishi Sunak’s West London home on Wednesday, and a protest outside the Scotland Yard on Saturday, with campaigners pointing out that the Met would be better off going after the criminals in oil and gas companies (and their investors) than arresting Just Stop Oil campaigners as soon as they step into the road – or, in the latest development, while their still walking along on the payment!

So let’s compare and contrast: on the one hand, more than 80,000 government and business delegates (plus a few hundred “representatives of civil society”) doubling down on yet more bleeding blah-blah in Dubai; on the other hand, more than 660 Just Stop Oil protestors arrested over the last few weeks – with 6 young Just Stop Oil supporters imprisoned for marching without having even been convicted.

One thing to bear in mind here: outside of our little climate bubble (that’s you, me and a few hundred thousand people), CoP28 will come and it will go without impacting in any way whatsoever on the vast majority of people in the UK. (CoP26 in Glasgow was a bit of an exception and got a lot of traction as the media bigged it up big time – what with it being here in the UK and all that!)

The only outcome from CoP28 that would get massive media attention would be a firm agreement to phase out (not phase down) our use of fossil fuels within a fixed period of time. The chances of that are close to zero.

In the meantime, Just Stop Oil is getting a lot of attention. It’s just published some new data showing the number of media mentions that environmental NGOs have generated this year, set against the amount of funding that they’ve received. So, the £680 million of funding for the National Trust generated 54,500 mentions; £3.1 million for Friends of the Earth – 43,100 mentions. The £1 million raised by Just Stop Oil generated a mighty 137,000 mentions. That’s pretty good value for money.

It’s only fair to say that a lot of those mentions will have been negative; the UK’s predominantly right-wing media continues to wage war on Just Stop Oil, portraying them in the worst possible light – as “eco-fascists”, “ideological zealots” (a term now much loved by Rishi Sunak!), and a threat to democracy and the rule of law.

Just Stop Oil is certainly challenging certain aspects of the rule of law, breaking laws in order to highlight the Government’s own reckless and deeply immoral disregard for the rights of citizens today and tomorrow. In so doing, however, Just Stop Oil is acting as a more clear-sighted, courageous defender of democracy than any political party – with the honourable exception of the Green Party.

The defence of democracy and the defence of everybody’s right to a stable climate now march hand in hand.