Circuses have evolved, as have UN climate summits.

As the formal negotiations move into finer details, Cop28 needs to pay more attention and accountability to actions in the real economy.

What are UN conferences for? Each year, the United Nations climate body (UNFCCC) finds a new country to host a summit (Cop), where delegates from nearly 200 countries discuss a decreasing number of global climate rules and journalists wonder what to write about.

Fortunately, at Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November, the delegates provoked a crisis at the last minute. which provided a good copy. But many correspondents already filed their “what’s the point of this annual circus?” articles by that time.

About 50,000 people attended Cop27. This clearly had nothing to do with the inviting beaches and lively nightlife of the Red Sea resort.

It didn’t really have much to do with the UN climate talks. Only a few thousand of those present were national negotiators. The rest, as every year, were representatives of business, international organizations, NGOs and research institutes. They took part in a physically adjacent but in many ways separate global climate expo. The Cop Fringe program has covered thousands of events and meetings.

That formal negotiations at the UN have become rather limited should come as no surprise. When the UNFCCC tried to negotiate a new international climate treaty between 2007 and 2015, the police played an important role. After the signing of the 2015 Paris Agreement, more police officers were needed to align the “Paris Code” with the detailed rules. But since it was completed on Cop26, there really are only two big questions left: loss and damage – where Cop27 agreed to set up a historic new fund, albeit without any money in it; and carbon markets, where countries generally disagree.

Political influence

Some people argue therefore the policemen should now be abolished and the official-only session in Bonn would do the rest of the technical work. But this misses the point. The cops are the one time of the year when leaders have to make climate speeches, and the media can be guaranteed to run climate stories. Getting rid of it will remove one of the few global levers that put pressure on governments to act.

The problem with the Cops isn’t that the negotiations have become too small to merit an annual circus. The fact is that the negotiations are now in the wrong focus. Today, progress on climate change is achieved not only through negotiations between nation states. The Paris Agreement has been fulfilled. The action is now taking place in the real economy, where businesses are investing in green technologies, parliaments are passing climate laws, and both are controlled by civil society.

One part of the policeman recognizes this. Both are confusingly named Marrakech Partnership for Global Action on Climate ChangeAnd High Level Champions Agenda is the place where real economy actors from business, finance, cities, local governments and civil society come together. It is organized around nine issues and industry sectors (energy, agriculture, transport, oceans, etc.), each of which daily activity program. But if you ask the members of Cop27 about it, few people know that this is happening.

At Cop28, which takes place in Dubai in November, this may change. As negotiations become smaller, the Marrakesh Partnership program could take center stage. And it should become a conference, and not just a series of individual events. At a side event, you make an announcement and get applause. At the conference, your ad is discussed by both critics and friends, the implementation difficulties are discussed, and you take responsibility.


The last point is key. In recent years, various industries, companies and financial institutions have done a lot ambitious climate commitments. But little is known about what happened next. There are very few verified emission figures or explanations of how they contribute to or add to the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) announced by governments.

Thus, one of the key features of the Partnership’s annual conference in Marrakesh will be to provide measurements of these various commitments and report on progress towards their implementation. This would be especially suitable for Cop28, who will convene “global inventory” actions and inactions over the past eight years.

In other words, Cop28 should be the first Cop to give progress in the real economy the same weight as UNFCCC negotiations. On days 1 and 2, let’s take the heads of government (after the speech) to discuss with scientists and youth the gap between promise and reality. On days 3 to 8, let’s provide an opportunity for those who have made commitments in each industry sector to explain and discuss the challenges they face. On Days 10 and 11, bring parliamentarians, mayors and governors from around the world together to learn about each other’s policies and strategies. And on the 12-14th day, all this could be fed into the final declaration of the Constitutional Court. Countries could assess the extent to which these plans address the emissions and funding gaps and commit to reporting further progress at Cop29.

Visit any modern circus and you will see that it has changed from the days of freak shows and lion performances. It’s time for the cops to do the same.

Michael Jacobs is Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sheffield and has been a student in the Police Department since 2007.

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