The COP28 climate summit is said to be one of the biggest ever iterations of the event for the humanitarian sector, with agencies attending en masse in response to the increased global focus on climate change.
From extreme weather events to destabilising societies, the impacts of a hotter planet are inherently humanitarian in nature. Facing existential threats on the front lines, activists, leaders, and experts from Global South countries have been leading the push for climate action. Amplified by a well-organised climate justice movement, they’ve chalked up hard-won victories such as a dedicated fund for loss and damage.
Here are 10 of the many key players who have made waves – or are trying to – as climate negotiations progress:
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber
As leader of the COP28 negotiations, Al Jaber’s job is to steer all 197 parties to a consensus in the talks. He has been focused on increasing climate finance, particularly for adaptation and loss and damage. Prior to a major leak claiming he was pursuing fossil fuel deals in diplomatic meetings – Al Jaber is also leader of UAE state oil company ADNOC – he was praised by climate civil society groups for his willingness to listen to them.
When she talks, everyone listens. Mottley may be the only person who can make global debt discussions sound interesting, as she often does in her campaigning for the Bridgetown Agenda to reform the international finance system. She is less in the limelight now due to the rampant pace of global events, but is still the closest person there is to a moral leader on climate change.
Kenya’s president has also tried to claim the climate crown for Africa, most visibly through holding the continent’s first Africa Climate Summit (ACS) in September. The ACS declaration was considered to be an expression of Africa’s negotiating positions on climate. But while Nairobi has seen an influx of tree-planting of late, Ruto has also been criticised for an approach seen as overly friendly to big corporates and leaning heavily on controversial carbon markets.
In a previous life, Barbados-born Persaud was a financier working in London. He has since morphed into the brains behind the Bridgetown Agenda, and become one of the most influential developing country negotiators in the loss and damage talks, for which COP28 is a make-or-break moment.
Richard Sherman and Outi Honkatukia (Loss and Damage Transitional Committee co-chairs)
Sherman is a longtime South African negotiator to COP talks, and an expert on climate finance. It’s a specialism shared by Honkatukia, from Finland, who previously led her country’s delegations to COP.
Both co-chairs steered the ultra-sensitive loss and damage talks through a year of tense discussions to a working conclusion. They finished their part of the job by throwing down a “take it or leave it” text on loss and damage at an emergency meeting in early November – bringing competing views together into a last-ditch, draft compromise to take to COP28.
The head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, which may be the most influential civil society group on climate, Singh, from India, has been popping up everywhere in the name of climate justice, especially as a civil society observer at loss and damage negotiations. He facilitated a key press conference with the G77 + China group in October in which the bloc threatened to walk out of negotiations over the proposal to use the World Bank as a host of a loss and damage fund. He’s also consistently one of the best-dressed people at COP.
The Portuguese national is the new head of the Green Climate Fund – the world’s largest pot of official climate finance. A former CEO of the Climate Investment Funds, a Washington-based multilateral fund, she has made big promises to revamp the GCF and for it to manage $50 billion by 2030. The GCF is also expected to up its game in fragile and conflict-affected settin‡gs, in keeping with one of COP28’s major themes.
The new-ish head of the World Bank, Banga has vowed to use the institution “to create a world free of poverty on a livable planet”. As the world’s largest multilateral development bank, whatever the World Bank does will have a major impact on how international finance reform efforts play out. The bank is also one of the key players behind COP28’s Peace Declaration, reported by The New Humanitarian last month.
Helena de Jong
Working with the UAE presidency on the Relief, Recovery, and Peace agenda, de Jong led efforts on a major COP28 declaration tying climate funding to conflict for the first time. She was previously a political officer with the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, after holding various related roles in the Netherlands, according to her LinkedIn page.
Saleemul Huq (Posthumous)
A fondly remembered climate scientist turned unstoppable campaigner for justice, Huq died in October. He was nicknamed the “guru of loss and damage” and there’s now a push to name the recently approved loss and damage fund after him.
Edited by Irwin Loy.