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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Science sit down: UW-Madison researcher attends COP28 global climate conference

UW-Madison Law professor Sumudu Atapattu shared her outlook toward the COP28 international climate conference in an interview with The Daily Cardinal.

The 28th U.N. Conference of Parties, COP28, is underway in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a seat at the table. 

UW-Madison Law School professor and author Sumudu Atapattu is one of three university faculty attending the annual meeting, which began in 1995 and brings countries from all over the world to discuss international frameworks for climate change mitigation. 

Atapattu is joined by health and climate researcher Johnathan Patz and Nelson Institute Ph.D. student Nova Tebbe. Conversations started on Nov. 30 and will end Dec. 12. 

Atapattu told The Daily Cardinal she is looking forward to conversations around topics she researches at UW-Madison, such as environmental justice, international law and human rights.

Discussions focus on a myriad of issues, like fast-tracking the renewable energy transition and climate financing. Atapattu is particularly interested in the “loss and damages fund,” which was formally established in the first days of COP28. The fund provides support to countries most vulnerable to climate change effects, like small island states. 

“When it comes to these small island states, some are going to become uninhabitable. How do you compensate them for that kind of loss?” Atapattu said. “How can bring focus to these communities that are disproportionately affected, who are more vulnerable to consequences of climate change, and whether a human rights focus would be beneficial to these communities?” 

Climate-related health issues are also taking center stage at this year's conference, with a full day devoted to discussing the topic.

“One of the biggest impacts that scientists are worried about with climate change is the impact on health. There will be more diseases associated with climate change as the temperatures get warmer” Atapattu said. “How do we cope with that kind of health impact?”

This year's conference is also the first time countries take a global stocktake, a formal assessment of countries' progress on the Paris Agreement set in COP21. The Paris Agreement set standards for decreasing global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 

However, countries are well behind these goals. Activists like Greta Thunberg have critiqued the conference for the lack of significant progress, calling it more performative than productive. 

COP28 in particular has been criticized for its president, Sultan al-Jaber, head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

“Some of the limitations relate to the international system itself because we don't really have a mechanism to police states at the national level,” Atapattu said. “We don't have institutions to impose sanctions or punishments.”

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However, Atapattu sees international conferences as an opportunity to bring countries together and give smaller countries a platform. 

““[This is] one time when all the states can get together in one place and negotiate,” she said. “A lot of decisions are made in the corridors — not so much in the negotiating room. The only way to facilitate that is to have these international conferences.””

 But COP28 is only one part of a larger climate movement. Atapattu said climate conversations can’t stop there. 

“Although it's a global issue and decisions are taken at the international level, the impacts are very much localized,” she said. “The adaptation methods, adaptation programs, and building resilience have to happen at the local level.”

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