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  • Writer's pictureConnor (Djindjabad) Wright

COP28: Indigenous Voices Swallowed By a Sea of Fossil Fuel Lobbyists

Written by: Connor (Djindjabad) Wright, Larrakia man.

In the heart of December 2023, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) convened, marking another critical stage in the world's ongoing battle against climate change. However, this significant event was overshadowed by a stark contrast in representation. The substantial number of fossil fuel lobbyists in attendance disproportionately outnumbered the small number of Indigenous delegates. This imbalance not only highlights the challenges in global climate negotiations but also raises crucial questions about whose interests are truly being represented at these international conferences.

The numbers spoke volumes about the skewed priorities at COP28. Reports indicated that there were over 2000 fossil fuel lobbyists in attendance (Lakhani, 2023), a figure that alarmingly outnumbered the Indigenous participants. While the exact count of indigenous attendees was reported to be only over 300 (Selibas, 2023), the staggering difference is not just indicative of representation; it is a illustration of the underlying power dynamics that continue to shape global climate policies.

The underrepresentation of Indigenous peoples at COP28 is not an isolated incident but part of a troubling pattern observed in many international forums. Indigenous communities, despite being pivotal stakeholders in the fight against climate change, often find their voices marginalized. Traditional knowledge systems and sustainable practices are vital to developing holistic and effective climate solutions. Yet, the minimal presence of Indigenous representatives at COP28 meant that these critical perspectives were largely absent from the discussions and decision-making processes.

While seeming to respect and want to preserve these traditional knowledge systems many western governments “collect” and romanticise such knowledge. This leads many indigenous leaders and scholars to not be taken seriously on the international stage, being tokenised and sidelined.

In her opening statement during the WWF: Indigenous Leadership at COP 28 press conference Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (2023) stated.

“We do our advocacy to see how we can be included into the negation tables, yet the system never changed.” “They want to sit at the tables, they sit on our behalf, they sit on our land and decide for our people without managing those lands, without knowing the management of those lands, without knowing the diversity of the species.”(18:46)

Adding to the complexity of the situation was the role of Dubai's COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber. Allegations of behind-the-scenes negotiations and agreements with fossil fuel lobbyists raised serious concerns about the conference's commitment to genuine climate action (Angela Dewan & Rosa Rahimi, 2023). These dealings, rumoured to be centred around sustaining and even expanding fossil fuel usage, are starkly contrasted with the urgent need to transition to renewable energy sources. The president even claimed that there is “no science” behind the need to phase out fossil fuels to stop global temperatures rising above 1.5OC (Carrington & Stockton, 2023).

Such actions not only compromise the integrity of the conference but also signal a disheartening disregard for the pressing climate issues that disproportionately impact marginalized communities, including of course Indigenous peoples.

The sidelining of Indigenous voices at COP28 is more than a failure of representation; it is a missed opportunity to integrate valuable insights into global climate strategies. Indigenous communities have long exhibited resilience and adaptability to environmental changes, practicing sustainable land and resource management. Their continued marginalisation means that the conference missed out on learning from these time-tested approaches, which could offer innovative and sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.

The events at COP28 underscore the urgent need for a paradigm shift in how global climate negotiations are conducted. It is imperative that future conferences ensure equitable representation, particularly of those who are most affected by climate change and have the least contribution to its causes. This means not only increasing the number of Indigenous delegates but also ensuring that their voices are heard, their perspectives valued and included in the decision-making process.

When the world gathers to decide the fate of our shared home, it is not be about the ones who are the loudest or the richest but who speak for the land, because the land speaks but not in a language many understand. COP28 has shown us the path not taken; it is time to choose the road that leads to a better future.








Angela Dewan & Rosa Rahimi. (2023, November 27). Climate summit host UAE planned to use the event to make oil deals, leaked notes suggest. CNN.

Carrington, D., & Stockton, B. (2023, December 3). Cop28 president says there is ‘no science’ behind demands for phase-out of fossil fuels. The Guardian.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. (2023, January 12). WWF: Indigenous Leadership at COP 28 | UNFCCC.

Lakhani, N. (2023, December 5). Record number of fossil fuel lobbyists get access to Cop28 climate talks. The Guardian.

Selibas, D. (2023, December 19). Little achieved for Indigenous groups at U.N. climate summit, delegates say. Mongabay Environmental News.


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