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Hello, and welcome to this podcast from the BBC World Service.


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Other people.


About us on social media. Podcasts from the BBC World Service are supported by advertising. Leaders from around the world are arriving in Dubai for the most significant climate conference on the calendar. That's COP28. But not everyone is convinced.




Blah, blah, net zero.


By 2050. Blah, blah, blah.


There have been a fair few eyebrows raised about an international meeting with an aim of reducing global warming being hosted by a world-leading petri state, the United Arab Emirates. This week, the BBC's climate editor made headlines himself with an exclusive reveal of UAE plans to use climate talks to make closed-door oil deals, something this year's COP President would rather we didn't all focus on.


These allegations are false, not true, incorrect, and not accurate.


And is there any point in the COP gathering anyway? Agreements made in previous years have often failed to deliver.


Delegates, I apologize for the way this.


Process has unfolded.


I'm deeply sorry.


In countries around the world, patience amongst the most committed activists is wearing very thin. Justice! Justice! So is it all doom, gloom, and cynicism? What glimmers of hope are out there? Hello, I'm Katya Adler from the BBC World Service. This is The Global Story. Monday to Friday, we focus on one story in detail with the best of the BBC's journalists. So who better to talk about COP, climate challenges, hopes, and fears than our climate editor, Justin Rowlat. Justin, tell us where you are.


Well, I'm in the main hall of this huge, it's called Expo 2020, this huge exhibition center in the middle of Dubai. There's these weird, big bubble structures outside. I'm outside the main plenary, which is a huge hall. The plenary is the meeting of all the states. That is where decisions have to be made. I'm right outside there. As I've been speaking, we've seen all sorts of climate celebrities go by, like John Kerry and the head of the bit of the UN that runs the Climate Change Conference, these people just walking past me, Katya, as they do at a conference like this.


That is quite something, actually, Justin, isn't it? Because so many times world events, immediate world events like Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, like the current war in the Middle East, take over and push climate down the agenda. So it is quite something when representatives of all of those countries come together. But on the whole, I think a lot of our listeners, a lot of the world's population is a bit cynical about the idea of coming to conclusions that are not fulfilled. As you arrive there, just the atmosphere in COP, is there a buzz or is there a cynicism?


Oh, coming here, there's a buzz. I mean, coming here, you feel as if the world is gathering with a sense of purpose. I just saw John Kerry whiz past in a golf cart, actually. I was waiting for another meeting. John Kerry is the American climate emboy. You knew the people of real consequence are here really trying to make a difference. Last time I came to COP, I was in Egypt and I met a guy who was a true veteran of these conferences, 26 out of 27 to. And he said, Look, the way to look at it is if you were an alien looking down on the world and discovered that the world faced this terrible challenge of climate change, which is essentially caused by all of us, the first thing you'd say is, Listen, you lot need to get together and you need to do something about it. You need to talk to each other about how to solve it. And that is what COP is. It's getting the world together to talk about it. And it's not easy. I don't know, Katie, when was the last time you tried to get a group of friends together to go and have a meal or a drink?


It's hard enough to get five people to agree on a location and a day. So to get the world to come together, 197 countries, is in itself something of a miracle and something that we should celebrate. So there is a hopeful sense here and a sense that things can be achieved.


You make a really good case there, Justin. I mean, I do feel your enthusiasm there as to why we shouldn't be all too cynical and count all of the air miles that are wrapped up by everybody who's arriving at COP to take part in it. But at the same time, you have carried out an investigation that is really quarter-light worldwide that fuels some of that cynicism. In fact, we're happy you're there because we weren't sure that you'd be made to feel very welcomed by the COP host this year.


Well, should I tell you first about arriving at the airport? Because I was a bit nervous. In fact, there was a colleague with me and she was like, Oh, God, I'm not sure I should be walking with you at this stage. I did think because I put my passport up to... It's an automatic reader at the Dubai Airport. As I put my passport in the automatic reader, I did wonder whether a klaxon would sound and a couple of heavies would come and take me away. But that didn't happen. They've let me in. It's absolutely fine. In fact, I just want to tell you, just as we were chatting, Simon Steele, who's the head of the UNF CCC, the UN body that oversees this, just walked past. I did get in. But look, it's fair to say that there's been an angry reaction from the UAE to the allegations we made.


Tell us about your investigation, Justin. Why were you so nervous at the airport? What exactly did you uncover?


I was nervous at the airport because we got hold with some independent journalists from a body called the Center for Climate Reporting of a trove, a cache of briefing documents that had been written by the COP28 team for President Sulton Al-Jabbar. They were fairly straightforward briefings, most of them, which outlined who he'd be meeting, so the Environment Minister of China or the Environment Minister of Brazil. They'd summarized the objectives for COP on one page, but turned the page. For 27 of them, there were additional briefing notes, talking points that had been drawn up by the UAE's giant state oil company, Adnock, and also by its renewable energy business, Mazda, and these detailed business opportunities that the UAE thought that they might be able to help along in some of these climate talks, or at least what they looked like where they planned to raise these talking points in meetings. They were things like, for example, talking to China about the possibility of natural gas deals with Mozambique, with Canada, and with Australia, or, for example, with the Brazilian Environment Minister, they wanted to talk about a multi-billion dollar purchase of a petrochemical company. But the point being that they were in meetings designed to forward the agenda, the carbon-cutting agenda, and that goes against the spirit of this conference.


It's absolutely explosive, isn't it? The public cynicism about even holding COP because you can argue until you reach an aim, and then will governments actually respect, or even private companies respect those aims. There were so many headlines before this COP as well. How can COP be hosted by a country not known for being essentially a national oil baron when you're looking at fighting the usage of fossil fuel? So the idea that they might be using it to get fossil fuel deals? Honestly, Justin.


Well, absolutely. And we approached them with the allegations, and they said... They said, Katya, they said, Private meetings are private, and we won't comment on them. ' Then they continued saying that Dr. Al-jabbar was seeking a transformative climate solutions at COP28, and to suggest anything else would be, and I quote, a distraction. So what they're saying, and we were asking them about whether they use the documents here. And so essentially, they were not denying that they'd not only drawn these documents up, planned to use them, but they'd also use them in meetings. That, I have to say, is something that Dr. Jabbat has hit back hard at today at a press conference that I should say, Katya, we were not invited to.


So you weren't invited, Justin. So somebody else put the allegations of your investigation to him then?


Yes, a reporter from the Financial Times asked a question about it, and he responded in, well, as you're here, very strong, very forcefully, I think it's fair to say.


These allegations are false, not true, incorrect, and not accurate, and it's an attempt to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency. Do you think the UAE or myself will need the COP or the COP presidency to go and establish business deals or commercial relationships?


The UAE, Justin, isn't known as the freest of societies. Now that you are there, you've been allowed in, what happens if you get some more scoops? Can you publish them? Can you expose them while you're in Dubai?


Yeah, when you're actually within the confines of France, so within there's a huge expo area that's been taken over from this vast conference. I should say 70,000 attendees to the entire conference. Inside here, we operate on UN rules, and the security is UN personnel dressed a little bit like NYPD officers complete with pistols at their waste. This is very much UN rules. We can report anything we like here. But obviously, when we leave to go to our hotel, we're back in the UAE. Who knows? Well, I'm only kidding. I'm really confident that nothing untoward would happen if we were to report more scoops. But I think it's fair to say that the authorities were not pleased with our reports because, of course, they call into question the good faith. And at the heart of this process is trust in the presidency because that's what generates the momentum and the support of nations behind the proposals. They're really bold, some really bold proposals that the UAE has for this conference.


Jossin, on your investigation, a bit of curiosity, and here on The Global Story, we like to not just peel back the layers on stories, but also draw back the curtain on how we, BBC journalists, work. How did you get hold of all of that information? How did you get that? What did you call? I was write a trove of all of these documents. Yeah, how did you get them?


I was quite pleased with the trove word, the T-word, credit where credit is due. There was a couple of independent journalists from thethe Center for Climate Reporting had their noses to the grindstone, making contact within the climate community and close to the COP28 team. And we essentially found a whistleblower who was willing to share some of the documents. So we got hold of that. And then obviously, there was a process of checking the documents to make sure we were confident that they were the real thing. Because these are the stories that, as a journalist, you dream about. Everybody wants a trove of documents that calls into question the behavior of a major international player. And so it's been a really interesting story to report.


So anyone who knows your work, Justin, knows how passionately you feel about the planet and fighting global warming, and that despite the chorus of cynicism, you believe it's worth taking place. Were you divided in any way when you got your trove of documents? When you knew that, as you say, it's a journalist's dream to be able to expose something like this. But on the other hand, did you have another voice in your mind that said, This is further going to undermine a huge international meeting on the climate that already faces so much criticism and cynicism?


That is such a good question, Katya. I did actually have a sick feeling in my stomach. There was a rush of adrenaline as a journalist thinking, My God, this is a really good scoop. And then there was also a feeling of, Oh, my God, what impacts this going to have on the negotiations. Because this really could, as I say, undermine trust and that could undermine momentum and get a much less ambitious result here in Dubai. I felt, I'll be honest, a bit queasy and a bit anxious about it. Not just for a day, that lasted for a while. I think now the stories out there and everybody's engaged with it. We've heard, for example, the UN Secretary General was expressed his astonishment. I think there's a sense, to be honest, I've spoken to people within the UN, there's a sense that they recognized that it was right that we reported it. I feel happier that it's not going to be too disruptive and that it was definitely the right thing to do to report it. But yeah, you're absolutely right. I felt very conflicted. It's so important that we get on top of climate change.


We don't have that many years left. The scientists say we've got to begin to bend the curve on emissions to start to reduce emissions within the next couple of years. In fact, the science says we need a 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, Katja, by the end of this decade. If we're going to do that, this conference is absolutely crucial. I was anxious about it.


I'm Katja Adler, and this is the global story. Do subscribe or follow wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps others find us. Justin, you've already outlined to us what we, of course, we know. I mean, you would have to be living somewhere deep underground not to know that the climate is in crisis. There are lots of things on the agenda about INCOP that I'd love to ask you about, and most of all, whether it's realistic at all. But before we get there, I think, and this must be a challenge in your job, talking about the climate is often quite depressing. I wanted if we could start with a bit of positive news, something over the last 12 months, perhaps, since the last COP, that has given you some hope.


Well, the hope bit is actually really easy, Katia, because it's so tangible, what's happening? Almost like a miracle, we actually have the wherewithal to deal with climate change in the form of renewable energy. So solar and wind have got significantly cheaper, to the point that in many places, they're cheaper than fossil fuels. That is amazingly positive for the world because it means that if you're somebody thinking about investing in energy, you're not going to go for the fossil fuel option because it's cheaper often now to do the renewable energy option. So instead of having to rely on the goodwill and the concern of people who are anxious about the climate, hard-nosed capitalists are beginning to pile into the sector and say this is something we need to invest in. So we're getting to the point where it looks like the entire energy system is beginning slowly, admittedly, but beginning to switch over to renewables. That is profoundly hopeful.


So... I mean, it sounds trite, but could capitalism end up saving the climate then? Because obviously, as you talk about the hard-nosed investors, it comes down a lot to private business, doesn't it? Efforts rather than the governments and UN bodies that are meeting right now in Dubai.


Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the scale of the investment needed to make this transition is literally in the billions. There's no way that governments are going to find the cash that's needed. So we do need private capital come in. And as you say, that in the way the world works now, that means capitalism. The market signal is that capitalists pony up, get ready, start spending. Radiable energy is a good investment these days. That is if the money flows in because people think there's profit there, we know. Look at the history of the world. That's the most powerful motive for action that there is. That is very hopeful. The question, Katya, sorry to be a downer, is will it happen quick enough? That is the question. Here, we have to do a little of the depressing stuff, trys 2023, almost certainly the hottest year ever. I remember July, we had the hottest day, and then that became the hottest week, and then the hottest month ever recorded. When we spoke to scientists, they said, Listen, we think it's the hottest year for 120,000 years since beyond the last ice age. That is a staggering evidence of the effect that climate change is having on our world.


You'd be a fool not to be worried about that and not to be concerned.


Justin, when you paint that picture, almost an apocalyptic picture, if you like, we've had for so many years, so many warnings about this is our last chance, and we've heard it repeatedly. And if I look at my kids, if I warn them and warn them, but I don't follow through, they start ignoring me. So obviously this has been such a hot year, and we've seen so many natural disasters. But is it enough to make voters really pressure the governments and the international bodies right now in COP not just to do the talk, but to actually walk the walk?


I think there's something really interesting here. This is a really difficult, tough challenge for democracies, because if you've got a short electoral cycle, four, five, six, seven years, and then you need to get elected again, you will always be looking at short term. That means there is a bias towards short term thinking in developed countries, in democratic countries. Look at the way that China has approached this problem. And decades ago, they said, Wow, this renewable energy thing has real potential as a business. They put huge amounts of state investment developing solar and wind power because they reckoned it would be a really good business and because they looked at the science and said, The world is going to need an alternative to fossil fuels. Actually, the reason why renewables are so cheap is because of those massive investments the Chinese made. If you wonder why, when America introduced the Inflation Reduction Act, they say, Guys, you've got to recognize we're way behind China, because China recognized this problem and the business potential of the solution and invested in it. It was their huge investments that made the manufacturing process so efficient that solar panels are now so cheap and the same with wind turbines—so you need long-term planning and thinking.


Actually, the story of China, biggest battery industry in the world, biggest solar industry in the world, biggest renewable industry in the world, it is not a coincidence. It's because they planned ahead and they recognized the problem.


We've often heard from poor countries saying, For us, look, it's a choice. We either fight poverty or we fight climate change. So global financing is something that's being looked at at COP. What else, Justin? Because you tantilise and you refer to rumors about COP this year.


Well, obviously, as you walk around and you meet the people, you know your community of people here, you hear rumors. We're hearing that there is—and this will be credit to United Arab Emirates—it looks like they've done some financing deal. We were pretty certain there was a promise made back in 2009 that by 2020, there'd be 100 billion a year from developing countries to help develop countries with climate action. We think that's been delivered. That's in the bank. We think this is an additional or climate deal that they're obviously quite proud of, keeping under their hats at the moment that we're expecting over the weekend. We're also expecting some deal on methane, as we call it in Britain, or methane—I call it in America. It's methane. It doesn't stay around in the atmosphere nearly as long, but has much more warming potential than carbon dioxide about 20 times. The agreement that we're going to get is more likely to be oil and gas companies promising to be much stricter on leaks. Credit to the UAE, again, for the first time ever, we've got a food and agriculture day. Food and agriculture is a third of all global greenhouse gas emissions.


It'll be really interesting to see what comes out of that. Then another big thing we're looking for at the heart of all of this is an agreement to tighten up the commitments that countries make to reducing emissions, to voluntary agreements to reduce emissions. They want to make those agreements cover the whole of their economy, including food and agriculture, for example. Hopefully, we're going to try and get the beginnings of some way of assessing how well people are doing, some form of accountability. But I think that will be quite tricky. One of the things people don't realize is these conferences are all voluntary. The UN cannot force anyone to do anything, so it's all got to be voluntary. It's all got to be done on consensus. I come back to Katya, trying to get five of her mates together to have a drink one evening, think how hard that is to do, and then trying to get consensus on an issue that strikes the heart of each country's economy between 190 countries. It's quite a challenge.


And all the more important then that the host of the COP meeting has good faith amongst the participants, or that they have good faith in them, which, as we mentioned earlier, there are some question marks over that in this case. Do you feel hopeful? I'm asking you to predict because I'm not trying to come back to hope here, about this COP and not that just a deal can be hammered together, which is difficult enough, but actually that we might see real change on the ground following COP because that's what it comes down to.


I think there could be some quite consequential commitments made. Look, I think it could be a really progressive COP. I mean, I hope it is going to be because it's so important that it is, but I think it could be. I think there is quite good momentum here. But one of the really important signals, the two most powerful nations on earth, China and America, had a meeting at an appropriately named place called Sunnylands in California. They said, We need tougher country commitments. They said, We recognize that's something. This sends a big signal to the world that China and America, really in a very fractious relationship at the moment, came together and agreed on this climate issue that there should be progress in those two crucial areas. And the hope is that sends a signal to the rest of the world that, look, come on, this is the direction we're going to move.


Well, as you've shown us, Justin, despite wanting to be hopeful, we keep coming back to a depressing picture about climate change. That must be quite hard in your job to try and not turn all of us off when we listen to your reports because we feel that the situation is hopeless. Presumably, you don't want audiences to think that. You don't want us to feel it's totally hopeless, and you don't want to put any of us off continuing to try and do our bit for the environment. How do you do that?


Yeah, look, it's not my job to be a campaigner. It's not my job to campaign. But look, you can... I mean, just talking to me, you'll gather that I am quite enthusiastic about the possibility that this is something that we can deal with. So I am quite optimistic and I'm always excited to go and visit people who are doing things that are beginning to make a difference. That's something that's very much on my agenda, finding the positive stories that show that there really is action on this. But just here on COP, there is so much more to discuss. It's an overwhelmingly huge conference. And what we should do, you should come back to me at the end of this and we can do an autopsy and pick apart its end trials and work out whether it will turn the dial on tackling climate change.


As well as find out if you've managed to get some more troves. Thank you so much, Justin Rowluck, for sparing the time. I'll send you back to that conference with all that sometimes we've been hearing a buzz of activity around you. So back you go to that activity. Thank you.


Cheers, Kathy. It was a real pleasure.


Thanks to you all for listening to us today as well. We'd love to hear your opinion on the fight against climate change or any other burning issues you feel we should be covering. Send us a voice note on +4.4, 3-3-0, 1-2-3, 9-4-8-0. You could email us at theglobalstory@bc. Com in whichever form we would love to hear from you. Wherever you're listening in the world, this has been The Global Story. Goodbye.