by Susan Ann Samuel, PhD Student with the School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds.
With COP28 tasked with the mission to chart the path forward after the Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement, Sultan Al-Jaber, the president of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company leading the Summit, sources exposing the presence of 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists at the Summit, and criticisms of a weakened civic and democratic expression at COP—the 28th UN Climate Conference, Conference of Parties (COP28) has garnered unusual attention. The momentum for collaborative efforts involving governments, multilateral development banks, public-private partnerships, and youth was gaining strength across various climate initiatives in the build-up to COP28. This was further accelerated at the COP; however, the hyperbolic portrayal of success(es) would make one think, whether there was a risk of the negotiations being perceived as oscillating between greenwashing and modest progress.
Even so, COP28 witnessed how nearly 200 countries came to a historic pact to move away from fossil fuels, albeit it remains far from ‘phase-out’ – exposing many caveats. Many questions still arise: even as the agreement on loss and damage (‘L&D’) offers hope, how does the language of historical responsibility continue to translate in climate finance for effective adaptation and resilience efforts? Exponential increase in the presence of young people in climate negotiations, makes one ponder whether their inclusion is internalized to plausible agreements and how does it trickle down to political will in respective countries? Has enough been done by the deal?
In all this, what’s unique for Early Career Researchers (ECRs) to learn in such a scenario?
Attending COP28 in UAE as an ECR for two weeks, I was keen to observe and critically analyse the dynamics of UNFCCC negotiations. Further, my interest in law and politics made me ponder as to how ECRs can grapple with solidarity rights: in their thought, work, and advocacy to advance climate justice. I believe that mainstreaming human rights in the pursuit of climate justice is important for the community of researchers irrespective of academic disciplines. Within human rights, the third generation solidarity rights have a unique feature to bolster critical thought and catalyse local, regional, and global climate action.
Kaleidoscope of Solidarity Rights:
Why a focus on solidarity rights? Their collective nature and global applicability make them pivotal in addressing complex climate challenges, underscoring the need for shared responsibility and international cooperation. The demand for innovative approaches is growing in light of the increased difficulties brought about by climate change on a global scale. The so-called “third-generation solidarity rights,” which already include the rights to development, peace, humanitarian aid, and a healthy environment, among others —contribute to the advocacy of developing countries, who demand for international equality between states, purposeful advocacy for inter-state injustices and global inequality that increases the risks of conflicts and exacerbates poverty.
Climate justice is fundamentally a human rights issue. Therefore, the importance of ECRs to be conscious of the human rights narrative in the climate negotiations is bolstered by looking into the kaleidoscope of solidarity rights. To address the systemic injustices, power disparities, and disproportionate effects on vulnerable groups that are primarily faced by and within the developing countries—pursuing climate justice through a human rights perspective is imperative. The rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture, and development are among the many human rights are at risk from climate change. It also highlights how security, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, developing nations, and underprivileged populations are disproportionately affected by climate change, which further exacerbate already-existing racial, gender, and socioeconomic disparities that will continue, if not worsen, for future generations.
The UAE Consensus and the lead up to it presents a range of significant topics—yet three areas particularly stood out to me, in terms of their importance and implications: (1) Fossil Fuel and Energy, (2) Loss and Damage, and (3) Intergenerational Justice and Equity.
Fossil Fuel and Energy:
The UAE Consensus at COP28, in Para 28 (d) adopts “transitioning away” from fossil fuels to clean energy, aiming for net zero by 2050. Key agreements included tripling global renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, resonating the pledge made by 130 nations at the start of COP, alongside a push for reduced emissions in road transport through electric vehicles, public transit, and cycling infrastructure. The transition emphasizes fairness and considers national circumstances. However, challenges remain, notably in financing renewables, which are costly initially and often inaccessible for developing countries. The outcome also allows loopholes for oil, gas, and “transitional fuels,” and does not fully address the limitations of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Looking ahead, countries must integrate ambitious targets into their next nationally determined contributions (‘NDCs’) by 2025 and secure finance for developing nations to enable this energy transition. Utilising solidarity rights will aid in international cooperation and the enhancing of States in capacity building for Right to A Healthy Environment and a sustainable Right to Development.
Loss and Damage:
The Loss and Damage Fund was decided upon during the first day of the Summit—finalized in the hope to aid climate-vulnerable countries facing unmanageable climate impacts. It was indeed a result of a hard-fought journey. Achieving this required significant compromises from developing nations. Initial funding commitment covered a total of just over $700m (£556m), far below the anticipated $580 billion needed by 2030. The UN’s Office of Disaster Risk Reduction and Office for Project Services will host the Santiago Network, offering technical assistance to these countries. However, loss and damage was not recognized as a central climate action pillar in the Global Stocktake (alongside mitigation and adaptation), exposing a critical gap for affected communities. Looking ahead, future steps include scaling the fund, larger pledges from nations, innovative financing methods, and integrating loss and damage into NDCs with detailed cost estimates. For the continuity of the loss and damage fund’s applicability and accessibility, solidarity rights may foster greater financial support, and even innovative financing. Moreover, the demand for justice, technical assistance and accountability remains crucial in the continued discourse of the L&D fund. COP28’s agreement on the L&D fund should not and cannot be merely ceremonial.
Intergenerational Justice and Equity:
Participation of youth at COPs has grown significantly, underscoring the critical need for international solidarity and cooperation in addressing climate issues. Such a notable surge in youth involvement sends a powerful message about the urgency for climate action. However, the response by States to the demands for intergenerational justice and equity remain a litmus test for political will, for not just climate action but beyond—where climate action will also mean reinvigorating state institutions to mainstream human rights, pursuing sustainable development, ensuring economic stability, enacting social welfare policies, and guiding equitable resource distribution across generations.
At COP28, it was inspiring to witness the outcry of the youths—not just for climate action, but for broader rights including that “education cannot wait,” a right dwindling amidst climate-induced migration. The rights to the highest attainable standard of health and to biodiversity were also on centre stage. The way youth and children are fighting for and utilising the soft power for climate justice is note-worthy.
It is argued that solidarity rights garner the least attention when compared to other human rights. However, looking into the campaign patterns of Right to Healthy Environment, and the continued advocacy of Right to Development, solidarity rights expose a new era of human rights—where innovation meets a global wave of public discourse and action: this is crucial in building social, legal, and political frameworks. Therefore, it is highly relevant for climate justice. For instance, in the Right to Heathy Environment, in addition to emphasising the urgency of addressing the climate crisis for both the current and future generations, it can be observed how the Call to Action 2020 linked the importance of doing so by calling on States to uphold human rights through the promotion of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. In addition, the Secretary General’s Our Common Agenda 2021 included the universal right to a healthy environment as one of its main recommendations—placing a strong emphasis on international collaboration, multilateralism, and global/international solidarity.
COP28 saw a platform where solidarity rights may help garner further attention for climate action, and vice-versa—re-emphasizing the need for responsibility in climate action and beyond. For instance, anti-fossil fuel debates brought the world to seek out solutions where scientists, governments, policymakers, and others are continuing to work together to devise ways to cut down demand for fossil-fuels. Loss and Damage has been advocated by Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Least Developing Countries (LDCs) and more, and the advocacy it built (and continues to build) along with youth movements, and Indigenous groups, have championed campaigns and brought the need for climate action to world courts. All of these are directly or indirectly impacted through the campaigns of solidarity rights – like the right to development, peace, and a healthy environment.
Such inter-linkages are opportunities for researchers, and especially ECRs, to be creative (even as we analyse through a critical eye) and innovate solutions through the growing wave of people’s participation; breaking silos and barriers for common goals. The Kaleidoscope of Solidarity Rights for climate justice shows the growing need for more innovation and creativity. This era, therefore, calls for thoughtful deliberation, decisive action, and effective implementation—and ECRs have an important role to play.