The world is currently meeting in New York on the occasion of the 78th United Nations General Assembly. Tomorrow, we will gather in Dubai for the COP28 on Global Warming.
In the post-COVID era—assuming the current viral wave doesn’t bring back the need for lockdowns—we have re-discovered the importance of meeting in person and the benefits of going beyond virtual dialogue. Hopefully, it will allow us to advance toward the much needed solutions our scorched planet calls for: we need to find common ground in order to produce differently, to consume differently, and to live differently. And this is my point: as the Secretary general of COP21, in Paris in 2015, with the COP President Laurent Fabius’s support and in full agreement with the UNFCCC’s team, I took great care to organize our conference in the most sustainable and responsible manner possible. Certified ISO 20121, the conference was neutral in carbon, the materials used to build the temporary village where tens of thousands of delegates met daily—including a gathering on one day under one roof of 160+ heads of state and government—were recycled or reused, and we successfully offered only locally produced and seasonal food, achieving a zero-waste balanced meeting: each night, the food not consumed was distributed to families in the area.
Since we expected the population to support the conference and feel a part of it, we developed two programs in order to involve local youth in the conference: some became liaisons with the foreign delegations and others were hosts in the airports, train stations and on the metro lines to assist delegates in their daily commute. For some of them, this experience represented a turning point in their young lives as the event brought them closer to a new world of opportunities.
Stakeholders of civil society, both national and international, were consulted far in advance and participated in the development of the conference’s concept which they later used as a forum. 90.000 visitors came to the site and had a chance to discover solutions offered by negotiators and stakeholders in the private sector, local comunities and scientists, among many others. Even though this event occurred as Paris was experiencing a spell of terrorist attacks, the security of the event was thoroughly guaranteed, and not a single incident was reported during the two weeks of the conference.
Eighty percent of the delegates used the public transportation system, and the carbon footprint of the conference was 120% compensated for (including the travel of all delegates). The conference showed that form matters and should be representative of the conference’s substance and goals. In this case, the conference of 2015–which produced the Paris Agreement on Global Warming—was responsible and sustainable, and thus a perfect illustration of how adaptation and mitigation are key to success in our capacity to live differently.
We shouldn’t expect less from the COP28’s organizers. The Dubai conference should show us, through its mere organization, that in 2023, travelling, meeting and working in one of the hottest spots on earth is not a challenge to the objectives we want to achieve, but, on the contrary, an opportunity to demonstrate that responsible and sustainable solutions are possible as we re-invent the art of gathering people and organizing events without creating a new burden for humanity. We will be watching.
(* Pierre Henri Guignard is a former French ambassador. He was Secretary general of COP21 and later special envoy for the Alliance for the conservation of rainforests. He is currently a member of MENA2050’s Climate Action Committee. The opinion expressed here is his own.)