“The COP28 venue will be closed on Thursday, 7 December. No official meetings will take place, no services will be available, and no deliveries will be permitted,” according to the UN climate summit’s official webpage. The delegates do deserve to take a breather after a week of intense stocktaking, negotiating, lobbying, and bonding. It sounds exhausting, especially if you add the flashy country pavilions, corporate-sponsored cocktail parties and a smorgasbord of side events to partake in.
The venue must be really crowded, too. With 97,372 officially registered on-site participants1, the summit has grown into a decent-sized and rather densely populated town of its own. Imagine the queues for food, not to mention coffee! The number is remarkable, even compared to the record-breaking almost 50,000 attendees who flooded Sharm El-Sheikh for COP27 last year. Mind you, back in 1995, fewer than 4,000 delegates attended the low-key first COP in Berlin.
So, should we rejoice at the exponential growth of people engaged in climate change cooperation or bemoan the newly acquired business-expo vibe of the conference?
Plenty of ‘the-more-the-merrier’ proponents are eager to put a positive spin on the staggering numbers. No less than 97,372 of them, in fact. “It means the issue has reached critical mass,” explains Alden Meyer, a senior associate at think tank E3G who has attended every COP so far. Another COP-veteran, Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, is equally enthusiastic. “It’s all we wished for,” she says, recalling how in 2000, in the Hague, the turnout was so low that everyone fitted into a single auditorium.
Others beg to disagree. “It doesn’t feel like climate talks. It feels like a trade fair,” complains Pascoe Sabido, a researcher at the Corporate Europe Observatory. “It’s a lobby fest where polluters can schmooze with politicians, all under the guise of tackling climate change,” he claims. These are not just empty words, either. Evidence presented by the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition on 5 December features another staggering number. “There are significantly more fossil lobbyists granted access to COP28 than almost every country delegation,” write the analysts. “The 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists are only outnumbered by the 3,081 people brought by Brazil (which is expected to host COP30), and the UAE, which as COP28 host brought 4,409 people.” Another depressing comparison shows that the oil lobby is represented by more than seven times the number of delegates than official indigenous people (316).
You might point out that fossil fuel lobbyists are still outnumbered by the journalists attending the summit. Clocking in at 3,972, the group of media delegates is yet another record-breaking one this year. Consider, however, that there were already more than 2,000 press representatives at the first-ever COP. As it turns out, in Berlin, fellow journalists occupied most of the chairs in the auditorium. Since then, the number of attending media representatives has fluctuated between two and three thousand, peaking at 3,712 during COP3 in Kyoto in 1997. Rather unremarkable growth there, I’m afraid.
It is almost enough to compel me to join the COP circus next time around. After all, someone has to ensure that decisions made in the conference rooms are as transparent as possible and, more importantly, keep governments and business leaders accountable afterwards.
See you at the next COP, perhaps?
1. These are just provisional figures, of course, based on the delegates that have registered for the summit. The final figures will be released after the summit has closed.↩