Syed Jazib Ali at COP28

Navigating the crossroads of culture, climate, and hope at COP28

Skrevet 31. December 2023

Documentary filmmaker Syed Jazib Ali writes from COP28 about culture-based climate action making a bigger impact on international climate policy.

(This text was first published in The Wire

Syed Jazib Ali is an award-winning documentarian, campaigner and activist hailing from the indigenous Pahari tribe of the lower Himalayan region of the politically and ecologically sensitive Jammu and Kashmir. His work advocates for fair human rights, societal equality and climate justice on a global stage.

At COP28 in Dubai, Syed Jazib Ali was part of the delegation of Julie's Bicycle, a UK-based cultural organisation working on implementing global cultural advocacy in climate spaces. Jazib has (like Klimakultur's Julie Forchhammer) participated in Julie's Bicycles international Creative Climate Leadership programme.  

Navigating the Crossroads of Culture, Climate, and Hope at COP28

(Text by: Syed Jazib Ali)

As the sun set on COP28, a gathering that drew the world's attention to climate change and its multifaceted challenges, I found myself immersed in a sea of thoughts, influenced by my journey and the broader implications of our collective climate crisis.

I come from the Pahari tribe of the lower Himalayan region in Jammu and Kashmir, a community intimately connected with the natural world, now facing the brunt of climate change. The nomadic Bakarwal community, our neighbours, epitomises this struggle. Their culture and lifestyle, intricately tied to traditional grazing routes and biodiversity, are under siege.

Loss and damage

Climate-induced flash floods, land degradation, and the transformation of ancient nomadic paths into military roads symbolise a broader issue of environmental injustice, deeply resonant with loss and damage – a central theme at COP28. The river Suran, in my hometown of Surankote on the border of India-Pakistan, exemplifies this – once brimming with life, it is now drying up at an alarming pace, while flash floods in recent years have wreaked havoc on the indigenous communities residing there.

This year's conference pledged a modest $700 million to the loss and damage fund, a figure starkly inadequate when considering the enormity of the need. It's a stark reminder of the gap between commitment and necessity, especially against the backdrop of meagre contributions from industrial giants like the USA.

It speaks volumes of the chasm between what is needed and what is offered.

Preserving cultural heritage

These funds should prioritise projects that not only mitigate climate change but also preserve the cultural heritage and traditional practices of indigenous communities. By doing so, we can ensure that climate finance serves not just as a band-aid solution but as a tool for sustainable and inclusive development.

The Global Stocktake report launched at COP28 is a comprehensive assessment of progress and challenges, that underscored the urgent need for a global shift towards sustainable energy sources. It's a sobering reminder of our collective failure to stay on track with the Paris Agreement goals. It also lights a path forward, towards a greener, more sustainable future.

Integrating culture into climate discourse

Yet, COP28 wasn't just a platform for highlighting deficits. I was part of the delegation of Julie's Bicycle, a pioneering UK-based cultural organisation that serves as a torchbearer for global cultural advocacy in climate spaces.

With their global call for ‘Culture at the Heart of Climate Action’, I witnessed a significant stride in integrating culture into climate discourse.

The formation of the 'Group of Friends for Culture-based Climate Action', co-chaired by the UAE and Brazil, marked a pivotal shift.

This initiative, set to culminate in a 'Joint Work Decision on Culture and Climate Action' at COP29, aims to infuse cultural perspectives into climate policies at COP30 in the Amazonian heartlands of Brazil.

It's a move that will recognise the cultural dimensions of climate change, promising to shape future dialogues and policies. It is imperative to build on this momentum by encouraging nations to develop policies that are culturally sensitive and grounded in the realities of their indigenous and local communities.

The power of culture

This can be achieved through participatory policy-making processes that include voices from all sections of society, especially those most affected by climate change.

Culture, with its innate ability to evoke emotions and mobilise people, holds a power that has historically been perceived as a threat by authoritarian regimes. This power of culture to stir emotions makes it an impactful tool for climate advocacy. 

Artivism at COP28

COP28 also provided a stage for powerful expressions of 'artivism'. Meeting renowned Brazilian graffiti artist Mundano and witnessing music performances by indigenous women at the Brazil pavilion, I was reminded of the potent role art plays in mobilising climate action and empathy.

In distributing letters from the 'Letters To The Earth' campaign, I crossed paths with inspiring figures like Ayisha Sidiqa, a young Pakistani-American climate activist. Her impassioned speech on the plight of the Palestinian people struck a deep chord at the summit, echoing our shared struggles and resilience.

The premiere of 'Act Now Film’ was another emotional moment. This project, which I co-directed in its inaugural year at COP26 in Glasgow, beautifully juxtaposes grief and hope, fear and optimism, encapsulating the emotional spectrum of climate advocacy.

COP28 wasn't without its challenges. As a youth from the global south, I've witnessed first-hand the difficulty of carving out a space in climate leadership. This year's COP, however, illustrated a growing recognition of these voices, marking a positive shift towards inclusivity.

Fossil fuel treaty

Samoan activist Briana Freuns, speaking at the ‘Why the world needs a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty' panel, highlighted the Pacific Island nations' fight for the 1.5-degree goal, stating, "We know that our communities in the small island states will not survive if the 1.5 degrees is not achieved."

Small island states, often on the frontlines of climate change, continued their fight to keep the 1.5-degree goal alive. The signing of the ‘Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty’ by nations like Palau, Colombia, Samoa, and Nauru was a testament to their resilience and commitment.

Hosting COP28, the UAE, a 'petrostate', achieved a historic milestone by uniting nearly every nation in the world in an agreement to transition away from fossil fuels, even with 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists present at the conference. This consensus reached for the first time in 28 years of international climate negotiations, marked a significant moment in our collective response to the climate crisis.

The summit's success was further amplified by the UAE's exemplary arrangements in terms of safety and infrastructure, positioning COP28 as one of the most significant conferences since COP21 in Paris. This achievement mirrors the successful hosting of the World Cup by Qatar last year, defying scepticism and mistrust. It’s a reflection of a broader narrative, often laced with subtle biases against Muslim-majority countries. As we look towards COP29 in Azerbaijan, these underlying sentiments of scepticism and distrust need to be acknowledged and addressed.


However, the outcome of COP28 wasn't without its complexities. Many countries expressed frustration over the absence of a clear directive for a fossil-fuel “phase-out” within this decade. The final text, while a breakthrough in some respects, was critiqued for having a “litany of loopholes” that could potentially allow the continued production and consumption of coal, oil, and gas.

This highlights the ongoing challenges in international climate negotiations - balancing ambitious goals with pragmatic solutions, and the varying interests and capabilities of participating countries.

A mosaic of hope and challenge

For me, COP28 was more than a conference; it was a convergence of culture, activism, and policy. It was a testament to the diverse yet unified nature of our fight against climate change.

As I delve deeper into the climate policy space, I am eager to learn more about the process of decision-making and negotiations. The journey ahead is long and arduous. The commitments made at COP28 are only as strong as their implementation, historic as they may be, are just the beginning.

Transparency in reporting progress, adherence to the Paris Agreement goals, and active engagement with civil society will be key to ensuring that the promises made at COP28 translate into tangible action. The responsibility of addressing climate change should not solely lie on the shoulders of fossil fuel-producing nations but equally on those who consume these resources. 

In conclusion, COP28 was a mosaic of hope and challenge, progress and shortfall, and a reminder of our shared humanity in the face of a changing climate. It's a call to action, urging us to weave the threads of culture, policy, and activism into a tapestry of sustainable and just climate solutions.

It should be viewed as a catalyst for a new era of climate action - one that is more inclusive, culturally aware, and practically focused. As I reflect on my journey, from a village nestled in the Pirpanjal mountain range of the lower Himalayas to the global stage. I'm filled with a sense of purpose and resolve, ready to contribute to this ever-evolving narrative of climate justice and hope.

Read more about Syed Jazib Ali and his work here.
Watch Syed Jazib Alis short documentary: Letters to the Earth: Leave No One Behind*


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