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226: COP28: The Outcome is a Signal

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About this episode

With Christiana away, Tom and Paul invite Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s Special Envoy for International Climate Action, to share her thoughts on the final text and what we can all take from this year’s COP 28 process.


Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s Special Envoy for International Climate Action
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Full Transcript

Tom: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Paul: [00:00:15] And I'm Paul Dickinson.

Tom: [00:00:16] This week at the close of COP 28, we bring you a special conversation with Jennifer Morgan, State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action from Germany. Thanks for being here. So it is the close of COP28. The UAE consensus, as it is known, was gavelled through in record time this morning after a new text was released by the presidency overnight. So there's been a lot of analysis and reaction to this throughout the day, which has been very interesting. The new text, of course, built on a previous one where there was a big drama about whether it was going to be phase out or phase down or fossil fuels. That ended up being resolved in a compromise that we will get into that talks about transitioning away from fossil fuels. Some may think that's softer, however it is in the text. We have now an international treaty that talks about transitioning away from fossil fuels. That is a big deal, but there are nuances as well, and we'll get into that. So, Paul, you and I are here now, sadly, we should say to listeners when we kick off that Christiana is not with us today for this short conversation we're going to have with Jennifer Morgan. So we're going to dive into it in a minute. But before we welcome Jennifer, Paul, we spent quite a bit of time together at the beginning of COP. You had to leave to do various other things, but I know you've been paying close attention. What were your observations? Load More
Paul: [00:01:48] Well, I kind of am fascinated by this idea that we come together, not with a world government, but with the nations together, finding some kind of consensus as if there was a world government. As you said, it was gavelled through and supported theoretically by all nations, although some said that they weren't in the room. We have what we have. But, Tom, a moment ago we were having a conversation that I think is completely fascinating, where you told me that before Paris, a very famous person said to you, this won't be a success unless we they ban you, ban, drilling in the Arctic and a couple of other things. And you explained that isn't really how the UN even works. So can you explain what this conference means in terms of specific outcomes and how the UN works in that example?

Tom: [00:02:41] Yeah. No, it's a great point. And I think actually, you know, first of all, we should absolutely expect success and ambition from COPs. And I think many of us spend much of our lives holding the participants, the countries in the world, in the COP to account, ensuring they reach high ambition. However, on days like this, when an agreement has been adopted of some kind, I also sort of look around at the media or I feel push back as well. And much of that comes actually from a misunderstanding of what the COP can do. You sometimes on this podcast, Paul, talk about a world government that can come together and make a plan. We're going that way. We're going to solve this. We're going to do a whole range of things in a planned economy way. The UN's not like that at all. This has to be a consensus driven approach. We have to get 198 countries together and find that magic common ground, that place where everybody agrees this is in our collective best interest. And there is so much that goes on at a COP that is around what the science says, where the economics are, the relative impact this is going to have on different countries based on the makeup of their economies.

Tom: [00:03:44] That's all very complicated. And the outcome is a signal. That's the important thing to bear in mind. We're not going to be saved by a COP decision that says one thing, and then everyone goes away and implements it. We've talked about this a lot on this podcast. What we're going to be saved by is a signal from the COP that gives confidence to entrepreneurs and investors who then deploy capital, which creates the space for policy. And that policy enables a more ambitious COP. And that loop, of increasing ambition, is what will actually support us moving towards solutions. So you can look at this in so many ways, but what I would come away from the COP saying is it's sent the signal that that ambition loop, that increasing move towards actually getting on top of this issue can be accelerated, is in the collective interest, and has the world's governments behind it. Is it full of loopholes? Of course it is. Does it go far enough? Of course it doesn't. However, as a signal, as part of that mixture, I think it's actually pretty special.

Paul: [00:04:43] So on that very specific point about, you know, it doesn't matter what it is, but let's call it drilling in the Arctic. Like the COP can't even respond to that because lots of different nations could drill in the Arctic. And it's in a sense for them to decide. And the UN can't bind them. But your point is that out of this meeting comes a very strong, globally agreed message, a signal you called it. And that signal then allows the sort of dominoes of national governments and the private sector and investors and cities and all the rest of it within each country to accelerate their work. It's an enabling environment. It almost sounds a bit kind of poetic. Or am I being silly?

Tom: [00:05:24] No, no, you're right and you're right on the other point as well, which is actually that, you know, I mean, we all want to stop the Amazon being burned down, but at the end of the day, the Amazon is in Brazil. And so nobody has legal authority over the territory of Brazil apart from the government of Brazil, so you can try and do deals that will encourage them to behave in particular ways. You can invite them into international treaties, but at the end of the day, that's where it is. And other countries as well of course, the point you just made earlier about drilling in the Arctic, the UN can't mandate the United States to stop giving drilling permits in the ocean off the north of Alaska. That is an issue for the United States to deal with. So each of those different areas, you know, the UN is made up of national countries, and we move forward through consensus collectively reached in these forums called COP.

Paul: [00:06:14] And you've been working, I think, a little bit with Jennifer over the last week or two, just before she joins. I mean, what does this work look like or feel like? Or, you know, for people who wonder what goes on in the kind of government corridors of a COP.

Tom: [00:06:30] Well, I'm happy to go into that with Jennifer's permission. But of course, she is a minister of a G7 country. 

Paul: [00:06:35] Okay okay, park Jennifer, let's not talk about her.

Tom: [00:06:37] No worries. So let's bring her in. Let's bring her in. Is she here?

Sarah: [00:06:41] No.

Paul: [00:06:44] No, says Sarah.

Tom: [00:06:46] I just thought, I thought that would be a good moment for you to say yes she's here.

Paul: [00:06:49] It is a good moment if she's with us.

Tom: [00:06:52] Yeah.

Paul: [00:06:53] But what about the tradition of Germanic timeliness? But then again is Jennifer.

Tom: [00:06:57] I think it doesn't count on a COP adoption day.

Paul: [00:07:01] Do you know, I'll tell you something, Tom, when I was, long ago, I was studying Hamlet, the Shakespeare play Hamlet for A-level, and I read a book of very famous people commenting on the play Hamlet. And I read this fascinating book of all these different essays, every single commentator was writing about themselves. The play Hamlet offered up to people the mirror to nature, in Shakespeare's phrase. I wonder almost, you know, I've read that the Guardian says one thing, the FT says another thing. Do you think people interpret the COP through the lens of their own pre-existing prejudices? Not to be too simplistic, but Sarah was talking about this a little bit earlier as well.

Tom: [00:07:42] Yes, I think that's true. I think people interpret what happens in the COP in exactly that way, and they sort of have an existing view as to what it is. And, you know, and if you want to say this COP is not enough, it should go further. You're right. And if you want to say this COP delivered a breakthrough, that is a strong signal to where we now need to go next. You're also right. So it's like we talk about so many times on this podcast that actually there are different realities which seem that it's not possible that both are true at the same time, but they are. And we have to ensure that the positive narrative is the one that is proved by what we do next. This doesn't conclusively determine the next phase of our lives or of life on this planet. What it does do is it keeps open the possibility that we can bend the curve towards the future we want.

Paul: [00:08:32] Beautifully put, beautifully put. Jennifer is here.

Tom: [00:08:37] Jennifer, can you hear us? 

Jennifer Morgan: [00:08:38] Can you hear me?

Tom: [00:08:39] Hey! Yes!

Jennifer Morgan: [00:08:40] Hey! Oh my God.

Tom: [00:08:43] Jennifer, how are you?

Jennifer Morgan: [00:08:45] I'm relieved. I'm happy. I'm, yeah.

Tom: [00:08:52] I know you're super, super stacked. So we can have you off in 15 minutes from now, if that's okay.

Paul: [00:08:57] Let's jump straight in. 

Jennifer Morgan: [00:08:58] Okay.

Tom: [00:08:58] Let's go. Okay, so I'll hop straight in. Jennifer, it is lovely to talk to you. First of all, congratulations. No one has fought harder than you over these two weeks and of course, many years to get to a positive outcome. So this does feel like a positive outcome. You and I saw each other a number of times throughout the COP and discussed the things that were stopping us from getting us to where we need to go. But before we get into that narrative and story, I'd love to just know where we landed. Transitioning away from fossil fuels. Obviously, that is the headline. There is a whole range of other nuances. What are the highlights for you in terms of what you're pleased with and what were you disappointed didn't go further?

Jennifer Morgan: [00:09:35] Well thank you. It's great to be with you. I mean, I think the highlights, definitely are the, you know, the signals that have been sent from this COP around the just transition away from fossil fuels in really a just and orderly manner. I think that was very important for us, combined with the renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, which focus really on this decade because we know it is the critical decade. And so getting those signals right is absolutely essential. So that was definitely one highlight. But we know we can't stop in 2030. So the other highlight I would say is the look into the 2035 Nationally Determined Contributions. Those targets. And we now have guidance that they're going to be economy wide. They're going to have all greenhouse gases. They're going to have all sectors in it. So that I think on the mitigation side or on the action, climate action side, I think that's key. The other highlight definitely was the loss and damage fund. And, you know, this has been for me a real priority and for Germany as well. Last year I facilitated it. This year in one year we decided to set it up. And, you know, Germany and UAE put $100 million in at the beginning to get it going. And I sure hope that that fund doesn't have to be used much. But I think that was really important to give confidence or I don't know what the right word is, but to the most vulnerable countries that we're, we're with them. And, to start the COP with that and then to be able to focus on all of this other very important things. Also adaptation, the financing piece, yeah. So it was a package, you know, it was a full Paris. And lastly, like, it's multilateralism at work and gosh, we need that right now.

Tom: [00:11:36] For sure. And I mean, apart from anything else, huge congratulations on loss and damage. We've been watching and talking on this podcast. You have been central to that. So thank you for that. And it's an amazing achievement. So, it would just if you look now at sort of the, the dynamics throughout the course of the two weeks, I mean, you and I met there was a lot of blockages. It looked like it was going to be really challenging to try and get to an outcome. It does feel like we got somewhere positive in the end. What were the compromises that were able to be found in the negotiations to enable to bring, for example, the Arab group was very negative and a range of others. What did you find was, what worked to bring everyone together?

Jennifer Morgan: [00:12:14] Well, I think there were a few things. I mean, you also asked about the disappointments. I mean, obviously we were hoping to have a peaking date agreed. It's noting the science, which of course is important. We had hoped for a bit more clarity on the finance piece. I mean, I think along with developing countries, I think we have clear signals and kind of guidance out to the international financial reform, and that's important. But in terms of what happened, I mean, I think a few things happened. I think one was 130 countries came together and said what was put on the table first was not enough. So I was part of a meeting with, you know, I mean, Brazil was there, the EU of course, was there, the US was there, but the Africa group was there. The least developed countries was there, and it was convened by the Alliance of Small Island States and Marshall Islands and Colombia was there, Chile was there. And all of these countries came together and said, we will not accept this outcome, of that first draft that came out. And then we worked together, through our own channels, of course, but also together to raise the ambition on that text. And then I think in a way, you know, the formulations around the just transition away from fossil fuels. I think that gave along with, you know, much of the work we've done over the last year on things like just energy transition partnerships, but also that this finance transformation that we have to achieve, I think many emerging economies saw that we were serious about that, and the trust that we built enabled that to to move forward.

Tom: [00:14:02] Amazing. I'm going to let Paul hop in in one minute so we don't keep you too long. But I'd just love to know how you're feeling leaving this COP. I mean, considering where you went into, COP in a fossil fuel producing state, everything that happened at the beginning with the suggestion that Sultan was using his meetings for oil and gas deals and also looking forward, I mean, a lot of trust in a way, has been placed in the Brazilian diplomacy in this agreement, saying we're now going to have a two year period to get on to a 1.5 degree trajectory. How do you feel coming out of this COP? Do you feel like we did what was needed to be done? You've answered some of that already.

Jennifer Morgan: [00:14:34] I guess. I feel, relieved. There was so much at stake at this COP. And, you know, Germany and the EU really went in, all in. It was our responsibility to go all in to call for the fossil fuel phase out, to call for the get the loss and damage fund set up and all of those things. I feel really determined because I think now it really goes into what we do tomorrow. So, you know, I was talking to, for example, Kenya, we're working with them on renewable energy. We've got a call out from our International Climate Initiative. Okay, let's get that to work. We've, you know, all the different pieces. I won't go through them, but all the different pieces that are there and certainly working with Brazil, I mean, we actually in the middle of the COP, Germany and Brazil had a heads of state and full cabinet meeting where we agreed to work together and support, yeah, President Lula and his whole, you know, cabinet went to Berlin, met with Chancellor Shultz and Minister Baerbock to say we want to work together also to, make their G20 presidency and their COP presidency a huge success. And the bilateral work that happens, which I think sometimes maybe people don't see how important these bilateral partnerships are to really be driving the transformation of our economy. So those are some of the pieces that I'm taking with.

Tom: [00:16:01] Amazing. That's wonderful to hear. Paul. Have you got time for one more question Jennifer?

Jennifer Morgan: [00:16:05] Sure thing.

Paul: [00:16:06] Super quickly, Jennifer, thank you so much for your work and dedication to this extraordinary cause. I mean, thinking about this from the perspective of our listeners who will be a little bit further from the process, some of them. So how does this outcome, you know, the text, it's very important. It's gavelled through. How does it show up in the world, you know, how does it play out? What's the global influence of this agreement?

Jennifer Morgan: [00:16:28] Yeah. Great question. I mean, I think it plays out in the real economy. So the signals that are being sent, around what it means to triple renewable energy in the next six years, is a signal into the financial sector, right. And what they should be investing their funding in and, and clearly they should not be investing their funding in stranded assets and fossil fuels. It plays out also in informing all of our development priorities and making sure that they're climate resilient and making that happen. It plays out in cities that they know, okay, there's this signal happening around renewable energy that they need to, then they have we have their back on that. So there's lots of different pieces that are playing out. And now I have to go because we're doing a German delegation photo. And my boss is telling me to come so.

Tom: [00:17:29] Alright, thank you Jennifer. Thank you for everything.

Jennifer Morgan: [00:17:32] So I'm outta here, bye.

Paul: [00:17:33] Thank you. Bye bye. 

Tom: [00:17:34] Bye. 

Paul: [00:17:39] That was sweet. That was real, real time, real time government action. My boss, you know. Who's that? Like, is that the chancellor? I don't know.

Tom: [00:17:47] Now I've got to hop off because I'm doing a million interviews here today. So it's been fun to do this with you together today, Paul, and we'll be back.

Paul: [00:17:54] Well, we're releasing you, Tom, but I'm gonna stay on for one second just to remind all of our listeners to please go for the listener survey. The links are in the show notes, and it's absolutely critical part of how we deliver what we do. Thank you so much.


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