Kathryn Lundstrom, AdWeek
EnergiesNet.com 12 14 2023
This year’s United Nations climate summit wrapped up today in Dubai, as nearly 200 countries agreed upon a new global pact for tackling climate change. But while the facts of the deal are historic—it calls on the world to transition away from fossil fuels—island nations criticized the fine print as offering a “litany of loopholes.”
A lot happened outside the official negotiation rooms at the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28). More than 100,000 people attended the summit, which is more than double the number of people at any of the previous COPs.
In addition to 198 national delegations, there were hundreds of companies with a presence at COP.
“The way to think about COP [is that] it’s not a single event, it’s two events,” said Aron Cramer, president and CEO of sustainability-focused consultancy BSR. In addition to the government negotiations, “it’s a massive climate trade show,” he said.
Several elements stood out this year, behind the facts of the deal: Food and agriculture were a bigger focus, public-relations firms assumed a major role in this year’s event and businesses took an important stand on fossil fuels.
The good: Business leadership, and a focus on food systems
Food systems and agriculture were a focus of this COP, a marked shift from previous summits. In the final draft of the global stocktake, the official name for the climate deal that came out of the summit, the text urges nations to increase regenerative production of agriculture.
“There was greater nuance and awareness around food than I had ever seen before,” Ethan Soloviev, chief innovation officer at sustainability intelligence platform HowGood, told Adweek. “The inclusion of food in the global stocktake […] is a big step for food systems.”
While food industry brands like Nestlé, Unilever and Carrefour had a presence at COP, Soloviev said it was less as a brand marketing play and more focused on collaborating with NGOs, activists and data providers to push for food systems language to be acknowledged in the climate deal.
The bad: No timelines for fossil fuel phaseout
While the final draft of the global stocktake mentions fossil fuel twice, it does not include a timeline for phasing down or phasing out the use of those fuels. It seems to open the door for more fossil gas production in a line about “transition fuels.”
The text also uses some of the weakest language possible when discussing transitioning off fossil fuels.
The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) had some of the strongest comments in opposition to the final text, which some reports said was gaveled through while Samoa was out of the room.
In a statement immediately following the global stocktake’s passage, AOSIS described it as “incremental and not transformational. We see a litany of loopholes […] It is not enough for us to reference the science and then make agreements that ignore what the science is telling us we need to do.”
Still, Soloviev argued that the failure of the world’s governments to lock in a plan for phasing out fossil fuels only puts more pressure on brands to take immediate climate action.
“We cannot rely on the governments of the world to get done what we need to—that much is clear,” Soloviev said. That leaves it in the hands of corporations, NGOs and data transparency companies like HowGood, he continued.
The greenwashed: Public relations firms swarmed COP
In the lead-up to COP28, PR firms were hard at work on behalf of fossil fuel companies, including the state-funded Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and the COP28 president, who was—at the same time—the CEO of ADNOC.
“The fossil fuel industry PR machine has been part of this process for a long time,” said Tom Brookes, CEO of the climate communications firm Global Strategic Communications Council, who’s attended every COP since 2009. “We haven’t seen anything like the scale of PR agency engagement we have this time.”
While less flashy than a brand marketing play at COP and less overtly political than lobbying efforts, PR firms—working on behalf of major corporations including the oil majors—shaped each step of the COP process. They helped shape the president that oversaw this summit from a petrostate, took credit for winning the bid to host COP in the UAE, and have now achieved headlines lauding this year’s deal “historic,” despite any plan to phase out fossil fuel production.
Fossil fuel companies and their enablers do not have society’s best interests at heart,” Harriet Kingaby, head of ACT Climate Labs and co-chair of the Conscious Advertising Network, said in a statement.
“Now we see their influence in the final global stocktake text […] may not only jeopardize the climate action but also create spaces for the industry to ramp up greenwashing,” Kingaby said. “We need to stay vigilant and take measures to protect the information integrity on climate change more to prevent such pollution in the media space in the future.”
- Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek’s sustainability editor. @klundste, firstname.lastname@example.org
adweek.com 12 14 2023