COP28 Uncovered: Becoming a force for ESG change

COP28 left an indelible mark on the fight against climate change. From historic climate compensation agreements to a last-minute deal on transitioning away from fossil fuels, the conference sparked unprecedented discussions.

However, the shadow of controversy loomed, with rampant criticism of the depth of commitments (see the $700m loss and damage fund lambasted for being significantly less than the $961m paid to the top 10 global footballers this year alone) and the encroachment of corporate interests. Begging the question, is COP truly worth its salt?

Let’s delve into the key takeaways for business leaders and communicators drawn from my experience on the ground in Dubai, as we look to igniting action in the year ahead:

  1. In the Room Where it Happens:

The crucial decisions on fossil fuel transition occurred when 39 small-island states had temporarily stepped out— acting as a stark reminder that presence matters.

And that isn’t exclusive to official negotiators. With a record 80,000 delegates in the Blue Zone and over 300,000 in the Green Zone, COP28 brought together a diverse array of leaders, innovators, and influencers. Whether witnessing negotiations or engaging in fringe events, the key lies in balancing pre-planned meetings with being open to spontaneous ‘lunch queue connections’. And with COP’s growth and accessibility, all signs point to the Conference swiftly surpassing Davos as the sustainability event of the year.

  1. Words That Matter:

The power of language was thrown into sharp relief at COP28, with the subtle shift from “phase out” to “transitioning away” dominating discussions and headlines.

Beyond the formal negotiations, communicators shoulder the responsibility of reshaping climate conversations. It’s about transforming the narrative from sacrifice to opportunity, surviving to thriving. Meeting people on their home turf and redefining success is pivotal – making sustainable lifestyles cool, not crusty.

  1. Action Speaks Volumes:

While words set the tone, action is the linchpin of progress. Whether celebrating advancements or lamenting missed opportunities, the impetus lies on governments and corporations to turn promises made in the UAE into tangible actions.

As new regulation such as the EU’s CSRD Requirements come into play, enforcing transparency and accountability on progress made, communicators may find themselves in the spotlight in showcasing progress and recognising where there’s still more to do.
Navigating that will require enhanced sustainability literacy to ensure you’re not stumbling into a greenwashing trap, while not loosing your audience in a sea of jargon and acronyms.

  1. Leave No One Behind:

Within the vast landscape of COP conversations, a community deeply committed to the ESG economy emerged. However, a sobering realisation struck: are we preaching to the converted? Social media algorithms perpetuate “artificial insanity” (to quote Al Gore), restricting positive sustainability stories to those already engaged.

The call is clear — to break out of the bubble, reaching diverse audiences where they are, addressing their wants, and effecting holistic change by bringing everyone on the ESG journey.

Reflecting on COP28, the path forward is clear. It’s a call to action for business leaders and communicators to be the catalysts for change. Embrace the lessons learned in the rooms of Conference, craft narratives that resonate, and ensure words are backed by meaningful actions.

If you’re looking for more insight on how to a force for action when it comes to sustainability, please do reach out: Together, let’s amplify our impact, inspire action, and shape a world where sustainability is not just a choice but a way of life.

Lauren Welford, Director of Corporate Affairs Grayling London

Image credit: UNclimatechange | Credit: COP28 / Christophe Viseux