Neel is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Prior to Heatmap, he was a science and climate reporter at Vox, an editorial fellow at Audubon magazine, and an assistant producer at Radiolab, where he helped produce The Other Latif, a series about one detainee's journey to Guantanamo Bay. He is a graduate of the Literary Reportage program at NYU, which helped him turn incoherent scribbles into readable stories, and he grew up (mostly) in Bangalore. He tweets sporadically at @neel_dhan. Read MoreRead More
Welcome to COP Week. Prepare to Be Overwhelmed.
Sure, COP is a circus. But if it draws people’s attention, all the better.
If you live in the United States, work in climate, and were hoping for a sleepy post-Thanksgiving slide back into work mode, I have bad news for you.
Every Monday morning, the Heatmap team gets together to take stock of what the week ahead looks like. Some weeks are relatively slow. This week, we all agreed, is so packed that it’s tough to keep track of everything that’s happening.
There’s an obvious reason for this: The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP28, kicks off in Dubai this week. The two weeks of COP are like climate Christmas: Governments and private companies alike can make announcements anytime, but the weeks immediately preceding and succeeding COP provide a sort of aura that makes everything seem just a little bit more noteworthy. This is, without a doubt, a good thing. Unless there’s some kind of disaster looming, climate news often takes a back seat to other issues. COP, however, gives climate types an excuse to grab people by the ears and force them to pay attention.
There’s an inevitable uptick in climate news each time the conference rolls around, much of it from the conference itself. International negotiators will, yet again, meet to hash out another climate deal, and many of them have already made their agendas known. The U.S. and European Union, for example, are leading a push to triple renewable energy capacity by the end of the decade. Developing nations, meanwhile, will try to get their wealthy counterparts to finalize a loss and damage fund created at last year’s COP, but which has languished in limbo as rich governments (including the U.S. and EU) haggled over what they owe. World leaders — including the Pope — will address attendees throughout the conference, and you’ll probably read stories about the various commitments countries around the world are making in the interim. China is particularly interesting here: The last time China and the U.S. reached a climate agreement in the run-up to a major summit, we got the Paris Agreement.
Expect analyst groups to release reports en masse about the state of climate change over the next couple of weeks — like this one, released last week by the UN, taking stock of countries’ progress toward holding emissions below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Many reporters (your Heatmap writers included) have already received many more such reports under an embargo that lifts around the time COP kicks off, opening the coverage floodgates.
Then there’s the news that might not necessarily be timed for COP but conveniently (or, for those of us trying to cover all of it, inconveniently) falls within the same time frame. My colleague Emily Pontecorvo has been waiting for the Environmental Protection Agency to release new methane regulations that could significantly reduce emissions from oil and gas operations, and for the Department of the Treasury to clarify tax incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act; releasing those guidelines during COP — even if they aren’t at all related to the talks themselves — would give the Biden administration a much-needed boost to its climate credentials as the conference gets underway.
Lastly, everyone’s favorite love-to-hate-to-love-it electric car company, Tesla, will make the first deliveries of its long-awaited — and much-maligned — Cybertruck on Thursday, the first day of the conference. While this has nothing to do with COP, it is, for better or worse, arguably the most anticipated EV release since the Model 3.
There’s been a lot of back and forth lately in climate circles about the value of COP — Christiana Figueres, the architect of the Paris Agreement, called it a “circus” — and many journalists I know expect there to be few surprises from the conference this year. But the glut of news around COP makes me think the conference provides something of value beyond just the negotiations. Few if any other annual events generate quite this burst of announcements across governments, think tanks, and private industry, and for a couple of weeks each year climate change moves to the forefront of our minds.
There’s something valuable in that, if a little quaint: Sooner or later, all of this will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds at all times, whether we like it or not.