By Erin Roberts
30 / 11 / 2023
Erin Roberts invites us all to be optimistic about COP28, even though there is so much going wrong in the world. Image credit: Randy Tarampi / UnSplash

“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.” 

James Allen 

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” 

Joel A. Barker 

For the past few years, I’ve written a blog about why I feel optimistic about the COP. It started with COP 26. I was coming out of a year and a half of deep reflection. I had been strengthening my mindset through meditation, mindfulness and gratitude practice among many other tools I employed to feel optimistic when everything seemed so uncertain in a world that was going topsy turvy. That first blog felt like revealing a part of me I’d long held hidden. Is it okay to be optimistic when there’s so much going wrong in the world? Now I know that not only is it okay. It’s necessary

But this year feels different. Because as I write this, a month ago to this very day, Saleemul Huq passed away. It feels odd to contemplate a COP without Saleem. And feeling optimistic? Well, that’s not easy either as I continue to get used to a world without him. As we all do. 

But while Saleem is no longer with us, he left so many lessons behind. So many lessons that live in so many of us, Including in me. The other day I was on a call with several other researchers who worked in Bangladesh in the same era as I did. It was an informal space to lean on each other as we grieved the loss of our mentor. And one of those researchers reminded me of how visionary Saleem was. How he created visions and worked towards them so effortlessly. So many of the climate policy initiatives we know today were created or inspired by him. 

I first started exercising my own visionary muscles while working with Saleem in Bangladesh. And watching him and other leaders in Bangladesh inspired me to focus my PhD research on how leadership, specifically policy entrepreneurship, shaped Loss and Damage policy. One of the biggest findings of my research was that policy entrepreneurs play a long game. They don’t concern themselves with setbacks because they are working towards a bigger, bolder vision.  And they are steadfast in keeping that vision in their minds as they go about their day to day. It’s not always exciting. Sometimes it’s a slog. But they’re always working towards something bigger, better and bolder. 

So, that’s why I’m optimistic about COP 28. Because, collectively, we have a bigger, bolder vision. The vision we are working towards as the Loss and Damage Collaboration is a world in which each and every human being on planet Earth has the tools and resources they need to thrive, not just survive. A world in which ecosystems are healthy and vibrant. A world in which joy is abundant. 

And this world is completely possible. 

We don’t have to choose between policy agendas. We don’t have to trade them off against one another. The process is only a zero-sum game if we believe it is. We absolutely can have it all if only we believe that we can. That’s one of the many things I learned from Saleem. The importance of having faith, believing in what others might think is impossible and then working towards it. 

So, at COP 28 we can take one more step towards creating the world we want. It can be as big a step as we make it. As big a step as we envision. Here’s what it might look like . . . 

As the first Global Stocktake (GST) of the Paris Agreement culminates in an outcome at COP 28 we have an opportunity to undertake a backward-looking assessment of where we’re at and create a forward-looking plan for how to get to where we need to be to create the world we want. 

We absolutely can limit global warming to below 1.5°C and we absolutely must phase out fossil fuels to do so. We definitely can mobilize support for adaptation at the scale of the needs (a commitment that must go far, far beyond doubling finance). We can agree on a global goal on adaptation that is fit for purpose and meets the demands and needs of developing countries. 

And of course, we can mobilize support at the level of the needs to address loss and damage. 

We owe it to developing countries to ensure that the Santiago network on Loss and Damage, critical for providing on-demand technical assistance, is fully operationalised at COP 28. This includes supporting efforts to assess and address loss and damage, both economic and non-economic in nature. The Santiago network has a significant role to play in helping developing countries articulate their requests and access support under the Loss and Damage Fund. But we must see dedicated pledges for the Network to start its work immediately. 

We can create a Loss and Damage Fund that is fit for purpose and equipped to meet the needs of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis in the global South. We can capitalize it and make a plan to replenish it regularly. We can meet the full scale of the needs. We absolutely can. There are enough resources on planet Earth to do so. We all know that. But at a minimum we can commit 400 billion USD a year to start and then go from there. Recent research tells us that enabling global climate action at the level needed to create the world we want will require 5.2 trillion USD a year by 2030. We need to start moving towards that much, much faster. Starting in Dubai. And next year we must create a sub-goal on Loss and Damage under the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance (NCQG) to ensure the Fund stays full. 

And that’s just the beginning

There is so much more we can do both inside and outside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to weave together a mosaic of solutions and move towards the world we want. The only limitations are in our minds. And those limits are self-imposed. What is deemed “realistic” is a moving target and can be expanded exponentially. And it must be expanded in order to create the world we want. Because the bigger our vision is, the better our world will be.  That’s one of the many things I learned from Saleem. 

As we get ready for COP 28, a COP where Saleem may not be with us in person, I’m optimistic because he will always be with us in spirit.  He lives on in so many of us and we owe it to him, to everything he did for us, to carry his legacy forward. So, let’s honour his memory in Dubai by taking the lessons he instilled in us forward. Let’s roll up our sleeves to make a bigger, bolder step towards the vision of a better tomorrow over the next two weeks in Dubai. We owe it to those on the frontlines of the climate crissi, the people Saleem dedicated his life to advocating for,  to think bigger and go further, faster. 

Erin Roberts is the founder and global lead of the Loss and Damage Collaboration. She looks forward to a bold, ambitious outcome of COP 28 that takes a big step towards creating the world we want, including through the outcome of the Global Stocktake which includes a roadmap for getting back on track towards creating a world we all want to live in. She dedicates this blog to the memory of Saleemul Huq and urges us all to honour him at COP 28 by establishing a Fund that meets the needs of those households and communities on the frontlines of climate change, the people he spent his career advocating for.