An Event Professional's Thoughts on COP28
COP28 wrapped earlier this week. It is the annual formal meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conferences (UNCCC) to negotiate and agree on collective action to tackle global climate change. This year was the largest of its kind. Ever.
The 2023 gathering hosted almost 200 country representatives and attracted 90,000 activists, lobbyists, media and more.
I wish I could have seen it firsthand. The event person in me has so many thoughts and questions.
- Having personally traveled to Dubai I’ve seen how lavish it can be. How can a mega power in the oil and gas industry be the best place to represent the future of the planet?
- Events have a heavy carbon footprint – what measures were taken by COP28 to demonstrate that they were walking the talk?
- What incentives did COP28 put in place to help attendees, delegates and sponsors act sustainably? Event designers should bear the responsibility on behalf of the attendee.
- Although events get some bad buzz for having a heavy footprint, it is my strong belief that when people gather in person, change happens. Face to face conversations, building relationships, shaking hands, being inspired, and experiencing moments together make a difference – not only a signature on a page and a promise made but an emotional commitment to those you have looked in the eyes and made an agreement with.
So how did COP28 fare on being a sustainable event? Reading the COP28 sustainability policy, it delivered.
Some key highlights include:
- Carbon neutral event (including travel by all participants) – great to see COP28 went beyond their scope 1 emissions.
- Maximizing resource efficiency and minimizing waste by designing event materials to be reused, supporting segregation and diversion from landfill, discouraging use of single-use plastics with refill stations.
- Providing low carbon and diverse food options by using local caterers and a “1.5C aligned menu” – vegan, vegetarian forward, local, limited red meat. With over 250,000 meals served across 70 outlets the F&B choices were under a microscope.
- ISO20121-compliant – implementing a sustainable events management system.
- A website with a “low carbon” tab.
Not being on the ground for an inside look at the day-to-day sustainability, it is difficult to say whether the event fully delivered or not. How much garbage was collected on the streets? To what level were hotels implementing sustainable practices? Were restaurants being incentivized to offer sustainable takeaway packages? Was all the energy measured and offset by a credible third-party organization? As an event specialist, these are just a few questions to consider.
And now that the conference is being dismantled and leaving town, I wonder what positive or negative impact it will have on the local community? I’m again hopeful that the impact is positive – job creation, boost in the local economy, inspiration to tackle climate change and implementation of new best practices in hotels, restaurants, travel, and transportation.
Setting aside the discussion about the climate impact of the event itself, I also spent a lot of time thinking about how the event was designed and what impact that design may have had on negotiations. COPs in prior years were criticized for poor attendee experiences – long wait times outdoors in the cold (Poland 2018), running out of water and food and having raw sewage run through the streets (Egypt, 2022). This year’s venue – in true Dubai fashion – was lavish, luxurious, and seemed to spare no expense – including indoor venues with birds chirping, plush seating, ping pong tables, shady outdoor spaces, scooters to move through the vast venue, food trucks with a wide variety of local foods and treats like ice pops. But how far is too far? Is it a contradiction for a climate action conference to bring the most enjoyable event experience to their attendees? Or does it make for a pleasant setting for people to have more positive outcomes to tough negotiations? Does it make for a creative experience for delegates to find inspiration?
I like to believe that if an event has taken every measure to be as sustainable as possible, it can also be elaborate with the design and attendee experience to create a productive outcome.
Success will be measured by the outcome of the event and if the delegates drive action when they get back home.
What’s next for me? I’m walking down the hall to see if I can go to Azerbaijan next year for COP29!
To see more from the conference, go to https://www.cop28.com/en/image-gallery
Executive Vice President, Client Experience & ESG
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