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COP28: A Personal Account

January 2024 by Sarah Davies

In December 2023, Sarah, our Education Coordinator, represented The Carbon Literacy Project at COP 28 in Dubai. It was the first time that a COP had a space entirely dedicated to education. Sarah was invited to attend since she had been consulting on the design and development of the ‘EcoChamps’ course, a climate education course for schools aligned to the UAE Ministry of Education Greening Education Framework, as part of a partnership between The Carbon Literacy Project, Alef Education and Cambridge University Press.

Read on to hear from Sarah about her experience.


Dubai – an (im)perfect host?

The first thing to say about COP28 is that there was an air of hope and determination. This was especially noticeable after a shaky start against a backdrop of criticism around the choice of host country and COP president, with his dual role as the chair of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). However, with the creation of the Loss and Damage fund in the first days, there was a palpable expectation that this COP might somehow manage to achieve the unachievable.

Dubai is a city that demonstrates what is possible with visionary political leadership and financial capacity – despite being built on unsustainable foundations, funded by the very substance that needs to stay in the ground. At 52 years old, it’s a glittering mirage of luxury and glamour in the desert, a city of superlatives, boasting the world’s biggest mall, the tallest building, the busiest airport and hosting the largest COP ever.

Having a COP in a city such as Dubai is essential in shifting attitudes and behaviour, not only within the country but also in the wider region and countries it influences. 80,000 people descended on Dubai Expo, hoping for the miraculous in a city where the Sheikh has been quoted as saying, “They say the sky is the limit for ambition. We say: The sky is only the beginning.” In other words, anything is possible, and the spirit of hope, optimism and determination was contagious.


Reasons for Hope

Whilst the wording of the final text lacks commitment, there are also reasons for hope, and you can read our COP28 roundup to see why. However, for me, hope was found beyond the wording of the final text; in the seminars, meetings, conversations, connections, in the corridors or over an impromptu coffee, and in the feeling that so many people around the world are concerned about the climate crisis and looking for ways to collaborate so that we can learn from each other, share ideas, and broaden our perspectives, whilst finding ways to join forces and work on the solutions.

There are also the indirect impacts of having a COP in a country. The host country prepares for the event in the first year of the presidency but retains the presidency in the second year. Within this time, there is plenty of opportunity to engage civic society in climate education and action. I lived in the UAE for almost five years and could see and hear the difference; people were talking seriously about sustainability both inside COP and around Dubai. This alone fills me with hope.


Advocating for Carbon Literacy in the UAE

Because of the shift in attitudes towards sustainability, there were plenty of opportunities to talk to people about Carbon Literacy in different settings, from the Greening Education Hub, to attending education conferences and speaking as a panellist and main guest speaker at various events in and around COP and Dubai.

I was invited to attend and speak at the 10th Chapter Forum of the PRME Middle East Network and Cluster launch over two days at the Greening Education Hub in COP and at the University of Dubai. I was also invited to various events held by The Alliance of Sustainable Schools and a ‘Do you Speak Carbon’ event held by a hotel chain. In addition, I met with the manager of The British Business Group Dubai and gave presentations and workshops about Carbon Literacy to different businesses.

The doors were open, senior leadership were listening, and everyone I spoke to understood that they had their part to play in decarbonisation while helping the UAE transition to net-zero by 2050. They were keen to explore how Carbon Literacy could be used as a tool to work towards cultural change and societal transformation.


Education and a way forward

I attended various education events in The Greening Education and Youth Hubs; many focused on pedagogical approaches to teaching climate change to young people while mitigating eco-anxiety.

A UNESCO seminar which particularly stood out showcased a German case study of an integrated approach to climate education and had a panel consisting of a student, teacher, school principal and member of the local Government. It highlighted the necessity to have climate education embedded at an institutional level and beyond so that students are taught relevant climate change learning, and teachers are upskilled with subject matter knowledge to create meaningful learning resources.

Not only that, but they are also supported with time to design and develop impactful lessons and resources by visionary leadership who can embed and prioritise sustainability at an institutional level. This, of course, must be supported at a policy level so that educational settings do not conflict with centralised targets but, through a whole school approach to climate change, are delivering the outcomes of any educational policy and strategy.


Key Takeaways

Being at an international conference is both humbling and inspiring. In that, one’s worldview is challenged, and perspective widened. I had the opportunity to meet people from all around the world who care and are working on climate solutions within their locality.

There is a lot of work to be done, of that we can be sure. However, there is an ever-increasing number of people innovating and implementing solutions.

The first step towards a sustainable and zero carbon future is education; the second is action. The work we all do within the Carbon Literacy community is more important than ever – not only to build awareness but also, through actions embedded into the learning outcomes, to transform society so that, together, we can translate ‘The UAE Consensus’ into meaningful action.

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