Lessons from my first COP

Esther Trewinnard Senior Media Officer at Tearfund 23rd January 2024

Members of Tearfund's Renew Our World network at COP28 (Esther on far left) Photo: Jessica Bwali/Tearfund

Esther Trewinnard from Tearfund was one of the thousands of delegates who attended last year’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai. Here, she offers some advice to media officers who will be attending future COPs.

While global leaders may have flirted with the idea of a flourishing future world at COP28, many left December’s United Nations Climate Summit in Dubai still battling with ‘commitment issues’.

As a COP first-timer, I’ve learnt that playing Cupid – urging world leaders to fall in love with a cleaner, fairer, more sustainable, renewable energy future – is surprisingly complicated.

Here are a few reflections for green-hearted press officers making the journey to Baku this year.

Start planning now

The journey to Azerbaijan, where COP29 will be held, is just one leg in the race across the world to climate justice. It’s wise to play the long game and pace yourself mentally, physically and emotionally.

Investing early in your ideas for coverage, research and media engagement in 2024 will improve your chances of making your message stick when it comes to decision making ‘crunch time’ at the end of the year.

Despite a mixed outcome, COP28 saw unprecedented support for the clean energy transition. The science is clear, the solutions exist and the momentum is growing. Leaders and negotiators publicly recognised – with greater honesty and clarity than ever before – the vital need to end the fossil fuel era.

This is a rung on the ladder that we need to hold on to, but it’s slippery as many of the very same world leaders (including our own in the UK) continue to look towards expansion of oil and gas interests.

No conference or organisation alone can deliver the full weight of climate justice in one sitting, so holding leaders to account between summits is important so as not to lose the precious ground gained.

Find a natural space in the media

Tearfund’s ambassador and COP28 spokesperson Laura Young is a climate scientist and activist who regularly contributes to UK radio commentary on environmental issues.

Her relaxed manner and ability to translate policy jargon into plain-speaking was a real asset for us. We first worked with Laura at COP26 in Glasgow, her hometown.

Laura travelled to Dubai as an observer and a member of Tearfund’s advocacy team. Her familiarity among UK radio broadcasters at BBC 5 Live and Times Radio opened up media space to explain to UK audiences what progress at the talks would mean for people living in poverty around the world.

Laura’s experience observing previous climate talks meant that she was able to put COP28 into a wider context and comment on the crucial nuancing of little words like ‘unabated’.

Get to know your network

A climate summit is a beast of a conference and inevitably requires good footwear and a burst of initial energy when you first arrive.

Having a network of familiar faces and contacts can help bring a little enjoyment to the endurance of security checks, queues, deciphering programmes, schedules, maps and understanding what’s happening when.

You need to be able to tap into the collective hive-mind because the news cycle moves very quickly.  For Tearfund, an international development agency, working in coalition with our networks, including Climate Action Network and Renew Our World was key to our approach.

Attending events in the lead up to COP28, such as the one hosted by the International Broadcasting Trust, were also super helpful to make connections with journalists and colleagues across the sector who were planning to be in Dubai in person.

Know your niche and spheres of influence

Tearfund is a Christian development agency, so the introduction of a Faith Pavilion provided an exciting space to meet with people from other faith based organisations, as well as religious communities and spiritual leaders.

Eight out of ten people around the world belong to a faith community, so how, as people of faith, we choose to respond to the climate crisis has massive potential. A core part of Tearfund’s work is inviting churches around the world to connect, speak out together, hold the powerful to account and actively care for creation.

The Faith Pavilion became a hub for our network to meet and share ideas. We took part in various discussions; from addressing religious resistance to climate action; to building youth-led climate justice movements; to highlighting the importance of indigenous voices in the summit negotiations.

Working alongside influential Christian activists, like Unicef Ambassador Vanessa Nakate, helped to widen the reach of our resources, such as Making a World of Difference, a book launched by the Renew Our World network at COP28. These collaborations left our team feeling encouraged, inspired and hopeful.

Through connections made at COP28, we continue to share other new resources, including bible studies that have been created to help Christians and churches explore the role they can play in addressing rising poverty, inequality and environmental destruction. 

Celebrate the small victories along the way

The progress made at UN Climate Talks can feel slow and incremental, so it’s essential to celebrate the high points and not get lost in the disappointment of the low points.

Reflecting on COP28, we can applaud that countries have pledged to triple renewables and double energy efficiency by 2030, but unless coal, oil and gas are phased out at the same time, we’ll continue to fuel climate disaster.

The longer we delay decisive action, the greater the cost of our inaction will be for all of us and people living in poverty most of all.

News stories covered by the BBC and the Guardian were particularly influential in holding leaders to account and compelling them to acknowledge the scientific consensus at COP28, so in the run up to COP29, let’s keep building momentum and sowing the seeds for a progressive narrative in Azerbaijan.

The conversations NGO press officers have with journalists over the course of the next few months will help to keep the wider media well informed and ready to call out conflicts of interest and any shortcomings, so that COP29 can be a meaningful and decisive summit for committing to climate action.

Esther Trewinnard is Senior Media Officer at Tearfund.

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