IEMA CEO gives first impressions of COP28

1st December 2023

Thousands of people have gathered in the UAE for this year’s COP28 climate summit, including IEMA CEO Sarah Mukherjee MBE, and deputy CEO, Martin Baxter.

The pair will spend the next two weeks speaking with stakeholders to gain support for IEMA’s campaign to get green skills and jobs in the final cover text agreement at the climate summit.

Specifically, the institute is calling for Paris Agreement signatories to include a detailed education and skills investment and development roadmap as part of their nationally determined contributions to the UNFCCC.

Here, Mukherjee gives her first impressions of the summit and the announcements that have been made so far.

What has the reaction been like to the loss and damage agreement yesterday?

That was quite a surprise, even for some of the more sceptical activists. The talk in Bonn not that long ago ended with quite an unsatisfactory agreement, so yesterday’s announcement was a bit of a rabbit out of the hat. A lot of funding has been pledged in the hundreds of millions for developing countries by the EU, US, UK and others to help them adapt to and mitigate against the inevitable changes that we're already seeing because of climate change. This is important because the poorest countries get hit first and worst by climate change as they are the least resilient.

Over 130 prime ministers and presidents have signed the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action. How has that been received?

It’s great, especially considering there wasn’t a specific day for food and farming at COP26 in the UK, despite transforming agriculture being absolutely critical for moving us towards a more sustainable global economy. On one level, we're really delighted that the UAE has taken this as something they really want to concentrate on, and have invested a lot of time and money in. But the sceptic in me thinks, we had a similar global agreement on deforestation at COP26, but a lot of environmental and nature NGOs would say that not a huge amount has been done since. The intent is great, and if it concentrates minds on sustainable, regenerative agriculture that will reduce our carbon emissions, great. But as with so much in this process, the devil is in the detail.

Did you manage to catch King Charles’ speech, and did it go down well?

Yes, it did, and I think he was one of the very few people who was asked to speak to the full plenary of 160 world leaders. I think it is recognition by the international community of the work that he's done over the years on the environment, which is very close to his heart and he is passionate about. I know from talking to people who have worked with him when he was Prince of Wales, there's an awful lot of diplomacy behind the scenes that takes place that he's involved with and has helped us make inroads on environmental action.

What has the reaction been like to Rishi Sunak’s attendance, considering his recent decision to allow new oil and gas drilling in the North Sea?

There's been a mixed reaction because there is still a feeling that the UK is an honest broker, and has been a climate leader for many years – it was the first country to have legislation for climate action. We have definitely been a significant mover in the international space. There are some who have told me that our national reputation has been somewhat diminished by these recent announcements.

You and Martin are pushing IEMA’s campaign for green skills. How receptive have people been that you have spoken to?

Really receptive, and first of all, thanks to all our partners and colleagues who signed our letter to the minister Graham Stewart calling for green skills and training to be in the cover text. We have had a great reaction from everybody, including EU and UK parliamentarians, who agree with how important our campaign is and have wished us well, and that’s really important. We'll be speaking an awful lot about this subject at Cop, and hopefully really begin to shift the dial on the importance that is placed on training. Unless you have the skills and training to underpin the green revolution we all want to see happen, the transition to a sustainable global economy is not going to happen at the speed we want to. It’s magical thinking without that training, but we've had a great reaction from everybody, which is awesome.

Have many people you’ve spoken to been disappointed that the summit is being held in the UAE?

There's a few people who have said that they thought quite hard about whether they would come for this year, and that they might spend less time here then they may have done otherwise, because of the venue. We have thought hard about it too, but we have a campaign that we want to give international attention to. And if you look at what's actually been achieved so far, we've already got very good progress, and campaigners have been surprised by that progress. We have something for food and farming, which we haven't seen before, but you can really only judge by the decisions that come out at the end. So far, there’s definitely more concrete agreement than we've seen at this stage in several other Cops.

Mukherjee and Baxter will be speaking at events throughout the conference to push the importance of green jobs and training for delivering a sustainable future.

The first IEMA session on the green workforce transformation is on Saturday 2 December 10:30 - 11:30am (UAE time) on the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Partner Stage.

On Sunday 3 December 13:15 - 14:45 (UAE time), IEMA will be participating in a UNFCCC joint event with ISO and the BSI on credible and accountable climate commitments. Tune in to the livestream here:


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