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A man with a beard standing in front of a green sign displaying the COP28 logo.

Ghulam Mustafa Kamran from our Law School reflects on the heath and faith pavilions at COP28.

The United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on 25 September 2015 – a resolution to unite global efforts for the betterment of human life on earth. In addition to the central theme of sustainable development, the resolution recognises human dignity as the ‘fundamental’ feature of this novel collective journey. The 2030 Agenda also shows the determination ‘to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.’

None of these central notions (sustainable development and human dignity) are well-understood; they fail to offer a clear normative direction and their non-binding nature affords a leeway for the formalisation of domestic implementation. Nonetheless, the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) with 169 associated targets encourage a range of interdisciplinary perspectives to advance and understand these central notions.

Sustainable development is ‘the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (Brundtland Report). Moreover, looking at climate change as a ‘common concern for mankind’ demands a comprehensive approach towards both the physical and non-physical characteristics of human life. A combination of these universally shared ideologies drew me to explore three pavilions: Health, Faith, and Children and Youth, during my attendance at the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Health pavilion  

For the first time, a whole day (3 December) was dedicated to health at COP28. A significant development was also the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health – endorsed by 123 countries. The declaration is not a negotiated document; it is non-binding and it sits outside the UNFCCC. Nonetheless, it can be seen as a collective voluntary effort to prioritise the elimination of existing barriers to mainstream health in the climate agenda. To educate on the climate-health nexus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) hosted the Health Pavilion at COP28. The pavilion was themed on the respiratory system (bronchus – the airway in the lungs).

As a law student, the first glimpse of the interior reminded me of Ella Debrah’s case in which the inquest found air pollution to be the major cause behind the death of a nine-year-old girl. Certainly, the climate crisis is predominantly a health crisis. The talks delivered at the Health Pavilion covered a range of issues. In addition to highlighting health problems associated with the anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases, the discussions also covered how health professionals can play their part in strengthening the implementation of policies that maximise health from mitigation and adaptation actions. These efforts can be seen as supporting the foundational aim of fulfilling the potential of human dignity and furthering the cause of sustainable development. However, WHO reported that only 30% of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) accounted for the health co-benefits expected from climate change mitigation (2023 WHO review of health in NDCS). This requires global attention that goes beyond the existing physical efforts.

Faith pavilion

Faith pavilion was also one of the new additions at the UN climate summit this year. Situated in the blue zone at COP28, the faith pavilion was allocated a separate tent-themed building. In its 65 sessions, featuring 325 speakers from 54 countries, the faith pavilion recognised the global fight against climate change as a “call of conscience” and as a “sacred duty instilled by faith”. The discussions at the faith pavilion offered a view of common inter-faith concepts and proposed uniting the divine wisdom for the benefit of future generations and the protection of our fragile ecosystem.

The global climate summit, as a whole, gives the idea of a secular pilgrimage. A pilgrimage where people from all over the world, gather for one cause while respecting every religion, race, culture and nationality. The religiously neutral thought process is the most fundamental ingredient for effective multilateralism. COPs under UNFCCC are one beautiful example of this objective and effective multilateralism which gives rise to hope. This neutral approach of conscience is crucial for the achievement of SDGs and is also essential for the completion and fulfilment of human dignity.