What would the ‘code of conduct’ at COP28 mean for university students?

In categories:  Published by:  Isabelle Zhu-Maguire

How can we have decisive and quick action to phase out (if not ban) fossil fuels if fossil fuel corporations are in the decision-making rooms?


At the 27th United Nations’ climate change conference, COP27, there were approximately 600 delegates from fossil fuel companies. That is not considering the hundreds of organizations in attendance that had connections with fossil fuels. So the question becomes, how can we have decisive and quick action to phase out (if not ban) fossil fuels if fossil fuel corporations are in the decision-making rooms? 

Hence, there are conversations already swirling around COP28 – will there be a ‘code of conduct’ rule that makes any organization that has a connection with fossil fuels have to declare that fact? 

As university students, young people should begin to think about this potential rule. What will it mean for us who are university delegates as many universities are still far from divesting? 

Children and Youth Pavilion at COP27

Children and Youth Pavilion at COP27 (Photo credit: Isabelle Zhu-Maguire)


Opportunity for universities to divest further 

A ‘conflict of interest’ ban would pose a very interesting opportunity for students to lobby their universities to cut all ties with fossil fuels. 

There is a key hypocrisy that many universities face – they are positioning themselves to be global leaders in climate action and research, yet their campuses are financially fueled by fossil fuels. A recent study by Mock COP also showed that the course curriculum of the top 20 universities falls woefully short to deliver the kind of education we need to see to tackle the climate crisis. Hence, universities are becoming more and more desperate to attend COP and this ban could be a powerful catalyst for divesting universities. 

Less opportunity for students?

The process of divestment at our every ‘corporatizing’ university is a long and tricky one. There are so many people who would have to approve each divestment decision. And when a fossil fuel company is contributing tens of millions of dollars to your university, which executive members do you think are actually willing to cut those ties? 

So this ‘code of conduct’ can serve as a divestment catalyst, but the reality is that many universities will not be willing to fully divest before COP28. 

What does this mean for students then? If the code of conduct is put in place, and our stubborn universities continue their greed and refuse to divest – us student delegates may be less likely to attend COP28. That is a significant chunk of the young people who attend COP who will be left out. What will that mean for the youth movement at COP? 

Moving forward, I think the only way we can talk about this code of conduct should not be critical of the ban itself. The proposal to bar fossil fuels should be considered and continued to be workshopped. It holds the potential to be a very powerful act.

I instead think we should move the conversation towards universities. There are many university staff members concerned about this proposed code. These staff is often putting their efforts towards the ban organizers. Why not move that energy toward the university itself? Why not start advocating for greater divestment – this ban is only the latest signal that this is the way the world is moving. 

About the author: Isabelle Zhu-Maguire is the founder of the Sustainable Universities Network (SUN) and has conducted research into gender and climate change as experienced by Afghan women. She is a Master of International Relations student, at Monash University, Australia.