COP-Out: Welcome to the 'Climate Circus'

Steven F. Hayward21 Dec, 2023 5 Min Read
Don't read all about it!

By now the annual international climate gatherings known as the Council of the Parties (COP) has come to resemble every Hallmark Christmas movie. The story arcs are always the same, with early smiles giving way to crisis, leading to the climax that threatens the sad breakup between the prospective lovers, late-night drama, and earth-saving resolution at the end, sending viewers everywhere home deeply satisfied, only to discover the next morning that the real world can’t live up to the treacly greeting-card ending.

And yet the 4,000 reporters covering COP 28 in Dubai lapped it all up yet again, burying the lede that the COP meetings long ago descended into farce. Four thousand reporters? Perhaps the surprise here is that there are actually 4,000 reporters left in the entire world given the steady collapse of the legacy news media, but that absurd number of reporters for a non-news event reveals everything about the media-climate change nexus.

With that number of reporters on scene, how many are going to report that there was no real news, or that its final document barely deserves the term “symbolic”? It was imperative that COP 28 make “major” news, or else news media expense accounts might be cut faster than stock market prices for renewable energy companies. The annual COP farce is a perfect example of what Daniel Boorstin described sixty years ago as a “pseudo-event,” that is, an artificial event produced for the sole purpose of generating publicity. Today we know this by a more direct term: fake news.

The rubes aren't buying the snake oil any more.

And thus after the contrived daily drama that COP 28 was on the brink of failure because the world couldn’t come to agreement to shovel hundreds of billions of new foreign aid relabeled as “climate aid” to the “global South,” and commit energy suicide by banning fossil fuels, at the last minute there was the predictable overnight “breakthrough” in which the delegates agreed that the world’s nations would “commit” (wink, wink) to “transition” from fossil fuels by 2030. There were no specified metrics to determine with “transition” means, nor any enforcement mechanism. Maybe, given the “fluid” era in which we live, coal- and gas-fired power plants can transition their gender and declare themselves to be “green energy,” claiming that it is “my truth.”

The story is the same with “climate aid.” Over a decade ago, the climate circus arrived at a goal of rich countries paying poor countries $100 billion a year. This year’s climate air pledges totaled only $12.8 billion, far short of the grand target, and it is doubtful whether governments in richer nations will honor even this modest collective pledge. The climate circus can announce any grand target it wants, but every serious person understands that with the fiscal profligacy of the industrialized west, no country is going to provide “climate aid” on anything more than a token amount.

One clue that the annual COP is performance art was that the Biden administration initially had no plans for any senior administration figure, outside of “climate diplomat” John Kerry, to attend, which is not remarkable given that Biden’s foreign policy team is rightly preoccupied with two major foreign wars. But such was the hue and cry from the climate campaign over this sleight that Vice President Kamala Harris was dispatched at the last minute to attend and give a speech. Her speech lasted less than five minutes, culminating in a typical Veeplike bloviation about how “we must have the ambition to meet this moment, to accelerate our ongoing work, increase our investments, and lead with courage and conviction.” Harris’s speech was met with a ”mixed reaction,” according to The Guardian. The jet fuel burned for Harris’s COP 28 appearance (she flew separately from John Kerry) works out to about 75 gallons per word, for a total carbon footprint 35 times higher than the average American has in a full year.

Kammy leaves 'em wanting less.

One giveaway that the COP sequence is purely “performative,” as the popular postmodern term goes, is to think back to the very first milestone in what was conceived at the time as a major international triumph: the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Many of the 4,000 reporters at COP 28 don’t recall the Kyoto agreement if they were even alive then, and Kyoto is hardly mentioned any more because it became such an embarrassment.

The Kyoto Protocol borrowed its diplomatic architecture from decades of trade liberalization treaties, which is why it was over 1,000 pages long and contained specific and quantifiable commitments from individual rich nations, while giving developing nations (including China and India) a complete pass. This is why the Kyoto Protocol failed a U.S. Senate advisory vote by a 95-0 margin (which means even John Kerry voted against it) before President Bill Clinton foolishly signed it. This repudiation has disappeared down the climate media memory hole.

Despite the fact that the Kyoto Protocol conspicuously lacked key features central to trade treaties—such as a global enforcement body like the World Trade Organization and punitive mechanisms nations may legally impose on other nations that don’t play by the rules—no successive climate agreement has attempted to be a serious second phase of Kyoto. While Kyoto ran more than a thousand pages, the much celebrated 2015 Paris Climate Accord was only 27 pages long, which means it is merely a declaration of cant and generalities. The United Nations says it is “legally binding,” which doesn’t even rise to the level of a joke as it is only “binding” in the sense that every nation gets to decide for itself what it will do and when. There are no specific national targets and there is no international enforcement mechanism.

The bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral.

John Kerry has declared that COP 28 was a “great success,” which is claimed after every annual COP meeting. But if each meeting is a “great success,” why the same dire rhetoric, scripted drama, and ambiguous and hollow “commitments” every year? Trade liberalization talks are held every year, too, but it is doubtful that even 400 reporters cover these more consequential meetings.

If it is too much for the media to report accurately that COP 28 was another predictable farce, one might have expected them to report one of the actual significant changes that appeared in the declaration this year: the final communique grudgingly embraced nuclear power despite opposition from Germany. Anyone who is serious about de-carbonizing energy has long known that nuclear power has to be in the mix, but environmental fundamentalists have excluded the nuclear option in most previous climate statements. The growing nuclear power renaissance enabled COP 28 to overcome this Luddism, though the Luddites in the news media couldn’t be bothered to notice or report it.

Another point of agreement was to plan on COP 29 and COP 30 for the next two years, to be held in Azerbaijan and Brazil. Reporters are no doubt already making their hotel and plane reservations for yet another “historic” meeting, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, and lecturer at Berkeley Law. His most recent book is "M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom." He writes daily at


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3 comments on “COP-Out: Welcome to the 'Climate Circus'”

  1. Green New Scammers want to cover the Land with Bird chopping Whale killing Wind Turbines and Solar Panels their letting their stupid ideology get in the way of their Common Sense

  2. I think the real takeaway from COP28 is the underlying fact that coal-generated energy is at an all time high and getting higher as each year passes. This is not to support coal-fired energy, but to point out that renewable energy has and continues to fail to support the energy needs of modern economies no matter how hard they are forced on society. The annual charade of COP (as well as other climate summits) is getting harder to spin and the uselessness of such gatherings is becoming evident. Allow me to contribute:

  3. These COP meetings could be conducted via ZOOM and thus show that they are serious about Global Warming and Carbon Footprints and CO2 Emissions. As it is, they are laughing at us.

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