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Slow Progress at COP28 – but Six Inches of Soil Premiere is a Triumph

he 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Dubai, was a landmark event as it was the first to commit the world to a transition away from all fossil fuels. However, this initiative received mixed reactions.

Eliot Whittington, Executive Director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), commented, "The deal is limited and slow compared to the scale of what is needed but represents probably the most active and inclusive global process in the world."


Bob Hoogendoorn, a member of the Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) Alumni Council, raised concerns about the effectiveness of emission reduction efforts, questioning, "Reducing emissions is important, but what is the net impact if investment in oil exploration is reaching an all-time high and fossil fuels still receive around $7tn in subsidies?"


Nina Seega, CISL’s Director for Sustainable Finance, expressed disappointment over the lack of a clear commitment to phase out fossil fuels, stating, "Ultimately, in the year when climate shocks have dominated the news, the lack of a sufficiently clear multilateral commitment to a phaseout of fossil fuels is what this COP will be judged for. Business and finance need a strong and ambitious policy framework to support an orderly transition, a fact that has at least been recognised in the text of the agreement."


The COPs have often been criticised for being influenced by industry lobbyists. At COP27 in Egypt, a record 636 lobbyists represented the fossil fuel industry, while this year in the UAE, 340 representatives from major food and agriculture companies were present, three times the number at COP27.


In the UK, Cambridge MP and Shadow Food Minister Daniel Zeichner addressed the House of Commons, urging Climate Minister Graham Stuart to outline plans for reducing emissions in the food sector. Zeichner challenged the government's policies in light of the COP28 agreements.


In response, Stuart acknowledged the importance of sustainable agriculture but offered no policy changes, leading Zeichner to comment, "It was telling that the minister offered no change to UK policy, despite the government’s failure to cut emissions from agriculture."


Amidst these discussions, a highlight of COP28 was the global premiere of "Six Inches of Soil" in Dubai's #ActionOnFood hub. The film, produced by Cambridge-based DragonLight Films, documents the journey of three new farmers embracing regenerative farming.


Dr Lucy Wallace, Chief of Staff at EIT Food and Head of the Secretariat for the Food Systems Pavilion, praised the film, saying, "It is important for us to be able to give real context to the international discussions about climate change, highlighting the importance of soil and making the case for a just transition to regenerative food production."


Michael Aggrey from the Movement Strategy Center was deeply moved by the film, remarking, "I never thought I could watch a movie about soil and get emotional. I think it’s high time the world begins to pay more attention to farmers and give them all the necessary support – because without food the world cannot survive."


David Pitt-Watson, a visiting fellow at CJBS, reflected on the broader context of the climate talks, stating, "The climate talks in Dubai are the 28th time the world’s nations have met to agree how we address this issue. Yet we still do not have a clear path which will lead us to a sustainable world. That is a real frustration, because the longer we delay, the more difficult it is to plan, and the more costly any transition will be."


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