Reflections on COP28: the road to climate justice

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Daniel Otieno Okech

Daniel Otieno Okech is a Fellow in the 2023-24 ACU Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort

The COP28 summit in Dubai presents an opportunity to review the achievements for earth and climate justice. As the world comes together to reflect on the progress made on various protocols such as The Paris Agreement, it is vital to assess what climate action has so far achieved and the challenges that lie ahead.

My participation in the ACU Climate Research Cohort 2023-2024 enabled my attendance at COP28, where on 4 December, I moderated a session at the Commonwealth Secretariat Pavilion titled: ‘Empowering Equitable North-South University Collaborations: Unpacking the Education Sector's Role in Climate Action for a Sustainable Future’.

Prioritising marginalised communities

During the event, the panellists explored how the education sector plays a role in fostering a sustainable future through collaborative efforts between universities from the global north and global south. The discussions delved into mechanisms that universities can adopt to ensure their collaborative initiatives prioritise marginalised communities, promote inclusivity and address social justice issues in the context of climate action. The session concluded with proposals to adopt strategies to measure the effectiveness of north-south collaborations in advancing climate action.

The Kenya Pavilion hosted an event on the intersectionality of gender issues and climate change. Women are disproportionately affected by climate change, yet their voices remain largely stifled. The discussion highlighted some of the gender disparities that women face. A case was presented where women in Kenya are given free environmentally safe cookers yet are required to sign agreements preventing them from claiming any carbon credits. This case presents a gap in terms of policy regulation in relation to carbon credits.  The panellists called for action on gender-responsive research to address power relations, energy access, and systems of oppression. They also stressed the importance of separating gender issues from sexual reproductive health and women rights on the African continent.

The role of universities in generating evidence which informs policy and efforts directed towards climate justice was also discussed. The panel explored how universities in the global north often overshadow the role of southern universities in climate mitigation and thus skew climate negotiations. The speakers noted the lack of adequate data from the global south, a lack of concrete involvement in data collection, and a generally unequal participation of universities from the global south.

The involvement of students in developing climate resilience was also explored, as well as proposals for making information more accessible to students to increase climate literacy. Speakers went on to highlight that universities need to embed climate change within the curriculum, research and teaching in order to drive change and equity. Glaring gaps in climate research were also noted including: a lack of data driven policy, the absence of a platform for sharing research, and a lack of integration of indigenous knowledge and indigenous voices in the interpretation of data to translate into local level action.

The role of universities

The role of universities in intergenerational solidarity featured in a subsequent session. This discussion revolved around how universities can address the complexities of different voices in the global population, as well as policy, science and accountability. Panellists argued that voices that are being stifled in climate discourses, namely those of women, youth and indigenous communities,  need to be brought to the fore.

The audience also heard that there is a need to convince people at the policy formulation level to experiment with different policy frameworks. Another problematic issue explored was that of carbon. Indeed, the risk with the carbon credits is that the oil companies responsible for global emissions will purchase all the credits, continue with business as usual, and continue to exacerbate climate change.  The current focus on the nature-based solutions was also deemed problematic.

‘A climate war’

‘We are in a climate war and on the verge of defeat’ – Sandra Mason, President of Barbados


The Commonwealth Secretariat hosted an event on Coastal Cities, Urbanisation and Climate Change. The audience heard that island and coastal city states are in danger on the front lines of climate change, and that COP28 must strive to deliver solutions. Solutions suggested included technical support and the development of policies, projects and data collection.

Pledges and commitments must result in action

At this year's United Nations climate change summit, nearly every country in the world has agreed to ‘transition away from fossil fuels'– the main cause of climate change. It is the first time such an agreement has been reached in 28 years of international climate negotiations.

Although such pledges are symbolically important, ultimately, it’s the action that follows these proclamations that matters most. Commitments must be backed by credible action. Unless we, as an international community, find solutions to the contentious issues discussed here, global emissions will continue to rise.

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