Researchers survey power play behind climate summit

Mikael Karlsson in front of a map

Mikael Karlsson is taking part in a research project on how different stakeholders promote their interests in global climate policy negotiations. Photo: Tobias Sterner

The climate summit in Dubai produced an agreement that could entail the beginning of the end for fossil fuels. Researchers will now examine the lobbying that took place at the climate summit. Both proponents and opponents of climate action will be studied.

During the UN COP28 meeting in December 2023, intense negotiations continued up until the very last minute. Mikael Karlsson, a researcher in Climate Change Leadership at Uppsala University, was able to observe the event in person. He attended with a dual purpose – to follow the climate negotiations but also to study the power play behind the scenes.

He is taking part in a research project on how different stakeholders promote their interests in global climate policy negotiations. The project is a collaboration between Stockholm University and Södertörn University and has recently received funding from Formas.

“We study the actions taken by different stakeholders to influence the negotiations in various ways,” explains Karlsson. “Our main aim is not to examine how oil companies are trying to slow down, but to survey the stakeholders who participate in order to further climate goals, for example in renewable energy. We call this private diplomacy.”

Focus on think tanks and lobbyists

The project focuses on think tanks rather than individual companies or sectors. Mikael says that it is often difficult to determine which stakeholders are in favour of and against climate action.

In addition to their observations on site, the research team is conducting a large number of interviews with both representatives of selected countries and with international organisations.

“Whose voice gets heard? Whose voice doesn’t get to be heard? How do stakeholders attempt to set the agenda? How do people meet? There is a long list of questions related to this. We collaborate from several perspectives: sociology, social anthropology and environmental science,” explains Karlsson.

Criticism of meeting hosts

The study will run for the next three years. By surveying the power play behind the negotiations, the researchers hope to contribute to a better understanding of what shapes and drives climate policy globally.

Holding the climate summit in Dubai was widely criticised, as the city has built its prosperity on oil.

Was it noticeable that the meeting was held in an oil country, with a president who also represents the oil industry?
“It’s obvious that there will be a strong focus on oil-producing countries when the meeting is held in Dubai. It’s a remarkable city, having grown from a fishing village to over 3 million inhabitants thanks to oil. But even if the meeting had been held in Sweden, Saudi Arabia, to take one example, would still have felt the same way,” adds Karlsson.

Poorer countries to be compensated

He is pleased that an agreement was finally reached on phasing out fossil fuels – something that several countries still actively oppose. Despite the fact that the climate summit is the 28th of its kind, important climate action is still being held up, he notes.

“Another important issue was resolved right at the beginning of the meeting: compensating poor, vulnerable countries for climate damage and losses. An unexpectedly quick agreement on this issue was reached on the first day. The climate negotiations are deeply flawed and slow, but they are leading step by step to a better world than if they did not exist.”

Annica Hulth

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