A transition from fossil fuels, green education and a health crisis: the highs and lows of COP28

From 31 November to 12 December, world leaders, negotiators, scientists, youth activists, and civil society leaders gathered in Dubai for COP28 to discuss the climate emergency and the need for the immediate phase-out of fossil fuels and a transition to greener economies to save the people and the planet. Population Matters Choice Ambassador Joan Kembabazi tells us about her experience at the conference.

Amidst escalating climate crises and increasing urgency, the United Nations COP28 conference emerged as a pivotal moment for nations to reaffirm commitments made under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The conference aimed to drive ambitious actions, innovative solutions, and tangible strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Climate funding was a central point of discussion at this year’s COP28. 

COP28 began with a historic agreement on the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund, which totalled up to USD 700 million to date, which is an essential tool to deliver climate justice. The fund will aim to support the most vulnerable and poorest countries to keep up with the rising costs associated, but the pledged fund is less than 0.2% of the needed amount.

Lack of representation

The representation of women at COP has always been lacking, despite the fact that women and girls are disproportionately affected by climate change, and there was a lack of meaningful inclusion of women at COP28 as only 15 of the 133 world leaders were women. Thus, women didn’t get a full say in the environmental policymaking that will influence decisions that affect their lives and their communities.

The COP28 Presidency launched the Gender-Responsive Just Transitions & Climate Action Partnership on Gender Equality Day, aiming to build upon progress made through the enhanced UN Climate Change Lima Work Programme and its Gender Action Plan. The Partnership includes a package of commitments on finance, data and equal opportunities.

However, there is so much that is needed to improve women’s opportunities to participate in and shape the green economy, including their education and empowerment to meet their needs and prepare them for the green jobs that are being created, strengthening inclusive decision-making so that the voices of feminists, youth, indigenous peoples and others are considered at the global level. In a high-level dialogue on Gender-Responsive Just Transition and Climate Action, Hillary Clinton emphasized that now more than ever, women leaders must be at the forefront of the just energy transition to ensure clean energy access for all.

Joan with Hillary Clinton at COP28

Green education

On Gender Day at COP28, I was also able to organize a panel discussion that was titled “Harnessing the Power of Gender Equality in Achieving a Just Transition”. It brought together young people to discuss the potential that girls and women have in enabling the world to achieve an equitable and just transition.

During the session, we also discussed how we can involve women and girls, most especially in responding to their most important needs and demands through education and empowerment to enable them to fully participate in a gender-responsive just transition for the people and the planet. I also attended other events that focused on the intersection of gender equality and climate justice, and those that highlighted the investment in girls and women to achieve climate justice.

Joan with fellow activist Vanessa Nakate
Joan with fellow activist Vanessa Nakate

On Education Day, discussions focused on how to ensure that all learning institutions from early childhood are climate-ready, mobilizing and strengthening political commitment to greening education, sharing good practices and solutions on climate change education and generating opportunities for synergetic action on greening schools, curriculums, the capacities of teachers and systems and communities.

Thirty-eight countries committed to climate education in their Nationally Determined Contributions, with the ‘UNESCO Greening Education Partnership Declaration’. Many young people, including me, called for investment in gender-transformative climate change education, because of the power of educating girls in solving the climate crisis.

A health crisis

The climate crisis is a health crisis, but for too long, health has been a footnote in climate discussions. However, this year COP28 hosted the first-ever Health Day which highlighted the severe health implications of climate change and the urgent need for governments to prepare healthcare systems to cope with climate-related impacts such as extreme heat, air pollution and infectious diseases.

However, the gaps remain on issues like the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of girls and women globally. Yet ensuring the SRHR of girls and women supports their bodily autonomy and ability to control their life choices, building resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change, which in turn can facilitate engagement in climate action.

COP28 also adopted the first-ever Global Stocktake (GST), which for the first time recognized the need to transition away from fossil fuels. One of the main goals of the GST is to help the world dramatically cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and make true progress in developing a more sustainable world. The GST text included transitioning away from fossil fuels, tripling renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, and accelerating efforts for net-zero emission energy systems. Compromises led to the removal of calls to peak global emissions by 2025, and dropping language on the phasing out of fossil fuels. However, the GST text is weak on finance and equity is nonexistent and also failed to secure implementation of real human rights-based climate action.

Joan being interviewed at COP28

Apart from attending high-level events, dialogues, and side events, I also had several interviews with different international media on the nexus of gender and climate justice. I also met incredible people from around the world who are doing amazing work in championing the rights of girls and women, including the right to education, SRHR etc. that inspired me to keep on doing the work I do in my community back in Uganda.

Final thoughts

My message to World leaders after Cop28 is “ Without an immediate and total phaseout of fossil fuels, we are failing the world’s most vulnerable and marginalised groups of people, who are already facing the brutal impacts of the crisis, who are  women and girls and a  more sustainable, resilient, and equitable future shall continue to be out of their reach.”


Joan Kembabazi is the Founder and Team Leader of Gufasha Girls Foundation, a community-based organisation in Uganda committed to promoting girls’ rights and education through advocacy, capacity building, and awareness creation. Joan is also a PM Choice Ambassador.

The views expressed in guest blog posts do not necessarily reflect the opinions and position of Population Matters.


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