Ellie Goulding: "I was at COP28 - and despite the criticism, a lot happened that should be acknowledged."

As the twenty-eighth iteration of the climate conference draws to a close, the singer, WWF ambassador and activist reflects on her key takeaways.

Ellie Goulding WWF
(Image credit: WWF)

Hello, I'm Ellie Goulding, I’m a singer, songwriter and producer. But I’m also a climate and nature activist and an environment ambassador for the UN and WWF UK. I’ve always loved nature. I grew up in Hereford, on the border of Wales. It was a tough upbringing in many ways, and I discovered early on that being outdoors helped my mental health. I felt as if I grew up knowing something that other people seemed to ignore; we’re not separate from nature, we’re part of it. There is no division. 

But there’s a flipside to this. When you feel so connected to nature, as so many of us do and should, to witness our planet being trashed and destroyed hits us hard. Many people say they suffer from eco-anxiety. That’s totally natural. We are destroying ourselves after all. 

For me, there is only one way to deal with this dual climate and nature crisis and that is to do every possible thing you can to confront it. For me, that means showing up. 

I went to COP28 in Dubai this year last week with my eyes open. I understand that many people were dismayed that the COP – one of the most important summits for our survival on this planet – was held in a country known for its oil economy. Even more concerning to many was the fact that the COP President was the head of an oil company. Every year it seems more and more oil executives attend COP. When I took to the podium at COP27 in Egypt, I called this out. But while it makes me feel uncomfortable, I shudder to think what would happen if activists and agitators stayed away. The oil industry would have the place to themselves.

So instead, I chose to attend this year to use my profile, voice and platform to share the stories of those affected by the issues being negotiated. I also wanted to show that despite the criticism, there is a lot that has happened at COP28 that should be acknowledged. The point of this is that we cannot and will never give up, whatever the outcome when these meetings come to a close. We must keep our hope and belief in climate justice and transformative change alive. We must keep working towards our future on a healthy planet. 

Below are the five takeaways I wanted to share.

"We must keep our hope and belief in climate justice and transformative change alive. We must keep working towards our future on a healthy planet."

1. This year's COP was the biggest ever

Over 80,000 people were registered to attend, and while it’s true that there were more attendees linked to the oil and gas industry, there were also more youth representatives and Indigenous peoples making their voices heard than ever before, and this should be recognised as positive progress.

2. Young people are a force of nature

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Climate Live pavilion to join a discussion about the power of youth activism in the climate space. 

The energy, passion and focus on collaboration from my fellow panellists was incredibly inspiring, and being surrounded by likeminded people who really, truly care about the issues being discussed at COP creates such a sense of belonging for me. 

You can really feel at COP that the youth movement is a global movement; in the UK, young people have been making their voices heard through creative storytelling including a youth-led short film, Our Beautiful Wild.

3. Indigenous representation is essential

In collaboration with WWF, I met with five young, Brazilian, Indigenous and local community activists to have a talk around the "Reclaimed Table" – a table created by the Red Cross and made of debris from climate disasters. 

One of these activists was Angelica Mendes whose mother I met when I was last at COP. It’s resonant that, across generations, Indigenous peoples and local communities in the Amazon have been feeling the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change and are currently facing the worst drought they’ve ever seen. 

One of the key messages I took away from this discussion is that these amazing people are feeling the pressure: they are tasked with being the guardians of a habitat that is critical to all people on Earth, yet they feel unsupported in this mammoth endeavour, and underrepresented when it comes to decision making at events like COP. This must change.

4. We must phase out fossil fuels

To quote UN Secretary General António Guterres who opened COP28, “The 1.5 degrees Celsius limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce, not abate - phase out, with a clear timeframe.” 

It’s concerning to me that there is still such disagreement on action on fossil fuels. There is positive ground being made, however, with Colombia having joined an international alliance calling for a treaty to end the use of fossil fuels.

4. Actions over words

Events like COP28 have the potential to create immense change but are meaningless if world leaders do not deliver on their promises, and deliver them as a matter of urgency. 

On Nature Day at COP28, the UK government announced new legislation that will help to ensure the products we buy do not harm the world’s forests. It’s an important step and a reason to be hopeful, but this process has taken two years – during that time, nearly eight million hectares of primary forest have been lost globally. 

I witnessed some of this first-hand when I travelled to the Colombian Amazon with WWF earlier this year. The accelerated forest loss, continuing degradation, and decline in wildlife in the region feel at odds with the high-level international discourse about protecting forests at events like COP28. If governments delay or roll back on their environmental commitments, then we must hold them to account. We haven’t got a moment to lose when it comes to taking action for nature and bringing our world back to life.

If you feel inspired by COP28 and want to take action for nature, you can use your voice to make positive change by writing to your MP and holding our leaders to account. Read more on the WWF website

Ellie Goulding
Ellie Goulding is an English singer, songwriter and environmental campaigner known Internationally for her breathtakingly powerful vocals. With several accolades (19 awards wins and 66 nominations) including, the Critics' Choice Awards winner, BRIT Awards and Best Solo Artist, Q Awards and four studio albums under her belt, Goulding is a musical force to be reckoned with. But that's not all, Goulding has done some incredible philanthropic work throughout her career, campaigning for mental health as well as the environment, most recently being named as an ambassador for WWF. Ellie Goulding took over as guest editor of Marie Claire for the last week of Earth Month.