Embarrassing for Us as a Species, Daily Brief December 13, 2023

Daily Brief, December 13, 2023.


As I write this morning, negotiations are concluding at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai.

The final wording of the all-important “Global Stocktake” text weakly calls for a vague “transition away” from fossil fuels rather than the “phase out” science demands if we’re to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change.

Well, at least the final document mentions “fossil fuels,” something no previous COP declaration had done – rather astoundingly, as fossil fuels are the main driver of the climate crisis. But seriously? No mention of phasing them out?

While the disappointed reviews filter in and as folks debate the meaning of the word “implementation,” one thing is known for sure: we’ll all be at this again next year at COP29 in Azerbaijan of all places.

Yep, you read that right. Negotiations will move from one rights-abusing petro-autocracy – the United Arab Emirates – to another, Azerbaijan.

This means a government whose economic and political power depends on fossil fuel sales, and which undermines the rights of anyone who might question them, will play a key role in influencing our planet’s future. And in what is, after all, a multilateral process, many other governments are failing to stand up both for urgent climate action and for human rights.

Given what’s at stake for humanity, this is beyond embarrassing for us as a species.

Let’s have a quick refresher on Azerbaijan’s horrendous human rights record.

The Azerbaijani government is completely hostile to dissenting voices. Authorities target government critics and political opponents with dubious charges. Dozens of brave human rights activists and dissidents are imprisoned on politically motivated and fabricated accusations. Restrictive laws prevent nongovernmental organizations from operating independently.

Media freedom is near zero: at least six journalists have been arrested in the last couple of weeks alone on absurd smuggling and other charges. Freedom of association is extremely limited. The country also regularly curtails any attempts at freedom of assembly, and police swiftly and brutally disperse all public protests. 

Ill-treatment and torture in custody is systematic in Azerbaijan. In the country’s war to recapture Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani military forces executed POWs.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the UN really needs to change how these conferences are planned. They should develop criteria for COP hosts to ensure civil society can speak out without fear of reprisals.

These international climate conferences are essential and hosting them in one petro-autocracy after another – where both the economic interests of the host and their rejection of fundamental human rights will drive discussions in the wrong direction – is an embarrassment and an insult. To all of us.

With zero exaggeration, we are talking about the future of humanity here. People need to be able to speak freely.