In an era of record-breaking temperatures, devastating fires, floods, storms, and deadly droughts – all causing millions of deaths – the climate crisis clearly demands the strongest possible, justice-based, and urgent response from nation-states. That is precisely what the global community has demanded at this year’s COP28, and what has – so far, in the final days – failed to unfold.

From here in Dubai at the United Nations’ 28th summit on climate change, you could be excused for thinking you were actually at an industry marketing event. With more than 2,500 lobbyists at this year’s COP driving business for fossil fuels, dangerous false solutions, and associated industries, many who are part of official delegations — including Canada. That is the reality of what is influencing negotiations.

Naming the obviously required phaseout of fossil fuels in the final text – without the problematic “unabated” qualifier, which Canada has previously used – and has become a contentious issue. (“Abating” coal at face value seems to mean reducing emissions, but in reality it is deeply alarming because it serves to extend the life of coal plants, upholding ineffective and unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage and co-firing biomass – burning wood with coal to generate electricity. Bad carbon accounting underpins this false solution.)

One of many corporate lobbyists at COP28, coal-turned-biomass giant Drax promoted bioenergy with carbon capture and storage in its booth. Drax operates a massive power plant in the UK, and owns a majority of pellet plants in B.C. The company is propped up by massive subsidies due to the misclassification of biomass as a renewable energy, despite the company’s links to pollution, environmental racism, and forest destruction.

Drax on X

Canada’s presence at the COP was notable for several reasons. Leaked documents indicated that this year’s host, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) planned to use COP28 to close fossil fuel deals, and promote LNG opportunities in Canada.

There were a record-breaking number of fossil fuel lobbyists at this year’s COP, including those on Canada’s official delegation – which were mostly nominated by Alberta. In fact, there were familiar faces from Canada at COP28 with the expressed purpose of promoting their (often literal) pipe dreams.

Former-British Columbia-Premier-turned-fossil-fuel-lobbyist Christy Clark came to the UN’s climate summit to promote LNG, where she spoke at an event alongside Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, and was praised for being a voice for the industry.

Premier Smith came to COP28 with a stated intention to make fossil fuel deals. Even Canada’s announcement about a proposed cap on oil and gas emissions, while welcomed by some, was watered down from what was initially proposed – according to the federal government, by the threat of lawsuits from Smith’s government.

The impact of these lobbyists and their government friends is clear. The recently announced Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), which compares the climate performance of 63 countries and the EU, ranked Canada 62 out of 67 – only above Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Korea, and Russia (the top 3 spots on the Index, as always, are empty because no country performs well enough to receive an overall very high rating).

“We need to acknowledge that the global economic and financial architecture that came out of the violence of colonization, of resource extraction, of plantation agriculture, of colonialism to drive markets for the countries that are today rich and control the resources of the world.”

It is evident that more meaningful climate action is needed from Canada and other leading fossil fuel producers, especially those in the Global North. A Loss and Damage Fund, which a few years ago seemed unfeasible, was announced in the first few days of COP28. But with embarrassingly low contributions from many wealthy countries, including Canada, the reality remains unchanged: those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis are being made to bear the highest costs.

Last December in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal) at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15), the delegate from Namibia shared profound words near the close of a fraught negotiating session: “We have suffered a systemic trauma that has disrupted the bond between humans and nature… we need to acknowledge that the global economic and financial architecture that came out of the violence of colonization, of resource extraction, of plantation agriculture, of colonialism to drive markets for the manufactures of the countries that are today rich and control the resources of the world.”

These words are equally true here in Dubai. Despite the clear need to dismantle systems of colonization and violent exploitation, certain countries continue to expand fossil fuels and industrial resource extraction, to perpetuate devastating war and violence on people around the world, and to prevent meaningful action from being taken – while taking up space in COP28 negotiating spaces.

But the COP is not just a space for corporate lobbyists and state “leaders.” Here at COP28, as at other COPs, people from around the world gather to build international solidarity. While the UN strictly prohibits certain actions and restricts protest language, people have still organized united actions to make their voices heard – and elevate the voices of people around the world facing the worst impacts of violence. Multiple, daily actions – including a march through the COP venue – have carried the voices of hundreds chanting “no climate justice without human rights,” “ceasefire now,” “end fossil fuels,” and more.

People calling for negotiators to “deliver a fast, fair, forever, full, feminist, funded phaseout of fossil fuels” outside the main plenary on the second-to-last day of COP28.
Tegan Hansen

No meaningful action comes to these UN summits that is not grounded in strong, ongoing movements that force political leaders to act. More than ever, we need to organize in – and across – our communities. And we need to truly step outside the lanes that have been defined by years of institutional divisions. If we are to “deliver a fast, fair, forever, full, feminist, funded, phaseout of fossil fuels” and dismantle destructive systems, we need to organize across many issues – human rights, environmentalism, labour, land defense, demilitarization, disability justice, food sovereignty, 2SLGBTQ+, housing rights, abolition and more.

As we face multiple overlapping crises in Canada, including the rising cost of living, our collective organizing must also confront the growing rightwing. The only way we can be effective in countering that is to come together through action, and overcome fear-induced hate with ambitious, justice-oriented, bold visions for the future – ones that will speak to people’s everyday needs.

In Canada, we have a responsibility to meet the calls to action of Indigenous Nations and people from the Global South who are leading on solutions – and year after year, come to the COP with clear calls to action. A just future is one that encapsulates peoples’ safety, rights, and one that promises a future worth fighting for. And while COP28 will not give us that, the people who have been working for years and those who are now building movements will.

Tegan Hansen is a Senior Forest Campaigner with