Hoping for Hope

Ashley Brown

Dec. 2, 2023

The irony of flying across the globe to only watch the opening statements on a laptop is not lost on me. Instead of what I’d hoped for, most of my day was spent lying down in the dark, hoping to relieve some pressure from my head (to little avail). 

An alarm set for 2:00 pm blaring the song “Hey Look Ma I Made It” got me out of bed to watch the opening statements. With the laptop perched on the coffee table, we sat and listened to the former COP27 president welcome the current COP28 president. It may have been due to cough medicine, or the fact that I wasn’t experiencing it firsthand, or a combination of the two, but much of it felt underwhelming. With something as dire as climate change, loss and damages, and questions of justice on the line, quoting Yoda felt like a joke—a bad one. “Do or do not, there is no try” echoed through the speakers, an attempt at motivating delegates. I just sat there and stared at the screen, wondering who would actually find that inspiring beyond the occasional Star Wars fanatic. 

A photo of a ferris wheel in Dubai

The Loss and Damages fund—or as a group chat member called it, the “lost and damaged” fund—finally began its course on the first day of the conference. Many had high hopes for it, believing it could promote equity amongst states and hopefully allow those most impacted by climate change to repair what has been harmed. However, it became clear today that it will fall short of its goals. The United States pledged mere cents compared to what it is capable of, with some calling it “a paltry $17.5 million.” The UAE and Germany each pledged $100 million, the European Union pledged £125 million, the United Kingdom pledged €60 million, and Japan pledged $10 million. The biggest economy in the world couldn’t scrape up more money than one that’s a quarter of its size; it’s almost laughable. Loss and damages needs around $400 billion to function, yet it is currently dealing in the millions. Viewing this from the couch made me feel more ill than I already was. 

I hope that the rest of COP28 proves to be more successful than the opening, going out with a bang of substantial commitment, in contrast to the stylistic an performative overtones of the opening.  It would be an understatement to say that a lot goes on at COP: 70,000+ people coming from around the world, negotiations, networking, research, and meeting new friends (there’s a chance we’ve recruited a SPIA applicant). This coming together is supposed to provide more than words on paper and new connections on LinkedIn; it’s supposed to give us hope and promise for a better tomorrow. As far as the first day goes, the hope department’s a little lacking. It is easy to fall down the climate change rabbit hole of doom and gloom; hope is necessary to keep going, it’s critical to avoid nihilism. 

I have hope in the fact that we were able to create the L & D fund, and that we have some money in the bank. It’s unprecedented, and most certainly a win- we must celebrate these when we can. On the other hand, I have little hope in how this fund will be operationalized; there is so much work to be done in terms of accessibility, civil society, contributions, and more. But if there’s one thing to take away, it’s that hope and despair are not dichotomies or binaries. It’s a spectrum we’re always sliding on, possibly even at two places at the same time. There is no hope or despair, but hope and despair.