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  • Writer's pictureRobin Lyons

Why COP28 is the worst form of (climate change) theatre going

A white man wearing a grey beanie hat and denim coat stood in front of a brightly coloured garage door
Robin Lyons, Environmental Sustainability Consultant

Dibby's Environmental Sustainability Consultant Robin Lyons (from Ergon Theatre) discusses the problems with COP28, why climate change is an LGBTQ+ issue, and how we can work together towards meaningful change.

Over the past few months, I've been working with Dibby Theatre on their latest production Toxic, helping them build company that takes its environmental responsibility seriously.

They've begun monitoring their carbon use on productions, have set waste targets (one small jar of non-recyclable waste per day in rehearsals!), and have asked their staff to commit to one individual and one group green pledge when working for them

It’s a small shift in the way they work, but they're committed to building a truly sustainable business as they grow.

I love theatre and the endless possibilities it offers - it can surprise, entertain, educate, inspire… but it can also deceive.

COP28 takes centre stage this week, and in my opinion, COP is the worst form of climate theatre going.

COP stands for Conference of the Parties and is the United Nations annual climate change conference.

It’s where world leaders and policy makers come together to discuss climate action and all of our futures.

The problem with COP is that despite all the pomp, ceremony and fanfare it doesn’t get much done.

Eminent thinkers and activists give rousing speeches (enter Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough) to thunderous applause.

But these are just the understudies.

When world leaders (the ones with the power to make change) take centre stage, they speak the right lines, move the right moves, give each other a standing ovation, and then with a bit of sleight of hand, swiftly exit stage left (on their private jets).

Unfortunately, COP acts as a form of political climate theatre, where world leaders and the wealthy Global North countries make all the right sounds to make us think something is going to change, when in reality, very little does.

Take last year’s COP27.

Despite increasing global scientific pressure to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, leaders couldn’t agree on any meaningful action.

They did agree to set up a loss and damage fund to support vulnerable countries (typically post-colonial and Global South), but it took until this year’s COP28 for them to agree on how it will be set up or who will pay into it.

But surprise surprise, there is already mounting scrutiny over the effectiveness or longevity of this fund.

But the main issue with COP is it’s cast.

All too predictably they are white, hetero, cis men, most of the capitalist neoliberal persuasion… the same cast of characters who have been the architects and profiteers of the climate crisis we are living through.

In a world destabilised by climate change, its minorities are impacted the greatest, including LGBTQ+ people.

If communities are left fighting over increasingly scarce resources, its minority groups' hard fought for rights that will be first to be thrown on the bonfire for fuel (to keep others warm).

The kicker is that LGBTQ+ people are often more politically activated than our cis-het counterparts.

Out of necessity LGBTQ+ people fight hard for social justice because they know what it feels like to be oppressed, and this is no different when it comes to the climate – LGBTQ+ people are statistically more likely to care about the climate crisis (Whitley and Bowers, 2023; Kilpatrick et al., 2023).

For many LGBTQ+ people, living every day authentically is in of itself an act of protest.

I'm a proud ally of the LGBTQ+ community and I think the community's passion, energy and resilience, activism, and change-making should be considered an asset for COP and the climate.

But where is the LGBTQ+ seat in the theatre for the climate debate of COP28?

Well, this year, LGBTQ+ people have been left well and truly out in the cold.

COP28 is being hosted in the United Arab Emirates, a country that has a less than favourable view of LGBTQ+ people (not overlooking that it’s a country that has built its extraordinary wealth and power by selling fossil fuels).

Last year’s COP27 was held in Egypt, and LGBTQ+ delegates reported choosing not to attend for fear of persecution.

Many that did attend closeted their identities for their own safety and we’re left unable to speak up on behalf of their community.

And when you find out that more passes than ever were given to fossil fuel execs at this year’s COP28… well, it all feels a little bit like the final curtain.

But just like we mustn’t become apathetic in our fight for LGBTQ+ rights and equity, we mustn’t succumb to climate apathy.

Here at Dibby I've witnessed how making small, incremental changes to working practices can prove beneficial in more ways than one.

The company's burgeoning environmental practices have sparked debate amongst the workforce, allowing people to share their climate anxiety and feel empowered to take collective and individual action both at work and in their personal lives.

When Dibby spoke up, it helped others feel less isolated.

And when we all committed to green pledges, it made the team feel part of a greater whole.

The climate crisis impacts everything and everyone, but it does not impact everyone and everything in an equal way.

And although we can’t influence what happens at COP28 these next few weeks, we can make a difference.

A difference that ripples through our communities, gathering strength and pace.

LGBTQ+ people have paved the way for social justice and reform over the past few decades… but now is the time to really start the fight, for all our futures.


Small actions you can take in the fight against climate change:

  1. Reduce meat, egg and dairy consumption – there’s loads of incredible vegan and veggie influencers on socials sharing amazing plant-based recipe inspiration.

  2. Check your banking provider, investments, and pension – is your bank or pension provider investing in fossil fuel extraction or other polluting industries? Then it’s time to switch!

  3. Switch your search engine to a greener alternative to Google – we use Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees.

  4. Walk, cycle and use public transport – ok, so we know sometimes a car or van is an essential, but so many journeys can be made using less polluting modes of transport (your heart will thank you for the exercise too!)

  5. Detox your digital world – did you know that saving files in ‘the cloud’, and using video conferencing software (zoom, google meets etc) increases your carbon footprint? Save files on your hard drive and get in the habit of deleting old, unused and unwanted files, and try setting a limit to your video meetings.


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